NASCAR — Jamie McMurray just one of the challengers feeling good

NASCAR


CONCORD, N.C. — Jamie McMurray has no race wins and no stage wins this year.

And at the moment, he’s inside the cutoff to advance to the semifinal round of eight with two races remaining in the quarterfinal round.

That’s a little bit of an accomplishment. The NASCAR elimination playoff format and its new playoff points system this year has put an emphasis on being the leader — either at the end of a stage or the end of a race.

Because he had done neither of those this season, McMurray started the quarterfinal round of 12 last among them, but just five points out of eighth.

With a fifth-place finish Sunday in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including a third in the first stage and a 10th in the second stage, McMurray finds himself going to Talladega Superspeedway this week knowing he is solidly in the mix. He is eighth in the standings, a point ahead of Matt Kenseth, two ahead of Brad Keselowski, five ahead of Ryan Blaney and nine in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

“I felt like coming into this round, we’d have to have a win in order to advance,” McMurray said. “But if we had three races like we did today, we’ll make it on points. It was not just a good finish, but stage points in the first one made it an awesome day.”

Now McMurray heads to Talladega, a place where he feels he can win. He has four career victories on restrictor-plate tracks and his most recent Cup win — nearly four years ago — came at Talladega.

“We ran second there in the spring,” McMurray said. “We’ll have a fast car and we do well at plate tracks. So if we can finish, we’ll have a shot to win.”

McMurray wasn’t the only winless driver feeling good after leaving Charlotte. Chase Elliott rebounded from a disappointing second-place finish at Dover where he lost the race in the waning laps, with a much more satisfactory second-place finish to Martin Truex Jr. at Charlotte.

“It definitely doesn’t make last week any better by any means, but the way we’ve run over the past two weeks is definitely refreshing,” Elliott said.

“You hope that we can keep running like we are, and … if we can, then opportunities will definitely be there. If we capitalize on them, hopefully we’ll have our day.”

Even though he’s winless, Elliott is now fourth in points, 16 points ahead of the current cutoff.

“Overall just the way we’ve been running since the playoffs started has been refreshing, and definitely makes it a lot of fun to come to the track and know that our car is going to drive pretty good, our pit stops have been really nice, and now is definitely the time of year to do that,” said Elliott, who has seemed to shake a summer slump.

“So hopefully we can carry it forward, five or six more weeks and see what it’s got to offer.”

Xfinity Series: Bowman, Reed big winners

Alex Bowman won Saturday in Charlotte for his first career NASCAR national series victory.

Spending most of 2017 as a simulator and test driver as he prepares to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Cup car next year, Bowman drove in the Xfinity race for Chip Ganassi Racing. He also will be in the Ganassi No. 42 car for the race next month in Phoenix.

He had that Phoenix race circled on his calendar after nearly winning the Cup race there a year ago before a late-race wreck with Matt Kenseth.

“I’m not going to be happy until I get a Cup win there because that is something that has haunted me every day since last November,” Bowman said. “It was probably the one out of the two that I circled, especially since it’s been so long [since I’ve raced]. I just want more trophies.”

Among the Xfinity Series regulars vying for the championship, the big winner was Ryan Reed, whose 12th-place finish put him one point ahead of Brendan Gaughan to advance to the semifinal round of eight. After an off week, the semifinals start at Kansas on Oct. 21.

Reed has won two Daytona races but this might have been one of his biggest accomplishments as he had to hold off Brandon Jones late in the race to preserve his playoff spot.

The other drivers advancing had pretty much comfortable cushions going in — William Byron, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Brennan Poole and Matt Tifft.

“With this high-pressure points system, … I just knew it was going to come down to it,” Reed said. “It was the hardest seven laps I’ve ever driven. Every time I turned that steering wheel, I had to be perfect.

“Man, I’m just worn out after that. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of drama and a lot of intensity.”



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