Big Money McMurray

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Jamie McMurray collects third win, Johnson increases points lead

Jamie McMurray collects third win, Johnson increases points lead

by Matt Taliaferro

Kyle Busch led a ton of laps. Jamie McMurray scored his third unlikely win of a career-resurgent season. A debris caution flew with under 25 laps remaining. Yes, the Bank of America 500 from Charlotte Motor Speedway had a tinge of familiarity about it, with the most noticeable aspect being that Chase dictator Jimmie Johnson scored yet another top-3 finish.

Johnson overcame an early-race solo spin to drive through the field for his fourth consecutive run of third or better and extended his points lead to a not-yet-insurmountable 41 points. While the four-time defending champion dodged and weaved his way through the pack, Kyle Busch found the point on lap nine and led for 217 of the next 304 circuits. However, a caution flag thrown for debris on the backstretch on lap 310 incensed "Rowdy," bunched the field up for a final 20 laps and gave McMurray a final shot at scoring the first win by a non-Chaser thus far in 2010.

The Earnhardt-Ganassi driver took full advantage of a rare restart mistake by Busch and drove away in clean air to notch a third big win — along with victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 — in the 2010 season.

"I feel like I do a really good job when the tires spin [on restarts] of not spinning my tires," McMurray explained. "And it’s very hard to discipline yourself when you have 900 horsepower to not continue to push the throttle down till they spin. When they start spinning, you lose a tremendous amount of speed, and it’s very hard when you know victory lane is the difference of spinning the tires and not.

"You know, I went through Turns 1 and 2 wide open and I got a little bit of a run on Kyle and I heard the spotter say, ‘He’s still there ... he’s still there ... clear.’

"And as soon as I heard ‘clear,’ it’s amazing when his front bumper breaks the plane of your rear bumper, how you feel the car lurch forward, because there’s so much drag when they are side-drafting you. As soon as I heard the spotter say ‘clear’ and I felt that — that’s a pretty good feeling, I promise you."

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"Big Money" McMurray broke through for another wins in Saturday's Bank of America 500 in Charlotte. Hot on heels, though, was points leader Jimmie Johnson, who increased his lead in the Chase standings to 41 points over Denny Hamlin.

Busch held off Johnson for second, while Denny Hamlin kept his championship hopes alive with a fourth-place showing. Greg Biffle was fifth, while Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, David Reutimann and David Ragan round out the top 10.

"Both," Busch replied when asked if he were more upset about the debris caution or getting beat on the restart. ├ČI don’t know what the caution was for. You know, apparently there was a mouse that ran across the racetrack or something. And the restart, just trying to get going there, Jamie got a good restart, and I don’t know if he got pushed from Jimmie or not, but he had a good run, good momentum getting into Turn 1. Then I got there and my car pushed up the racetrack and got to the plate and he was already gone ... nothing I could do. Couldn’t even stay to his outside."

Busch’s post-race sarcasm was matched only by Johnson’s sense of relief.

"I’m glad to be sitting in here in third spot and leading the points," Johnson said. "It’s amazing what goes through your mind when you’re sliding sideways on the back straightaway. I saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away, and fortunately I got the car turned away from the inside wall. At that point [it] kind of scared me straight, like, ‘OK, just stay smooth, we can salvage a decent finish out of today. Maybe we don’t win, maybe we don’t be in the top 5, but I know we can get a good finish out of this if we can keep our composure.’ And we did."

Title hopefuls Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart saw their dreams of a championship slip away. Gordon (23rd) via a faulty alternator and pit-road speeding penalty; Stewart’s after early-race damage to his bumper and pit road issues that relegated him to a 21st-place showing. Gordon now sits 156 in arrear of Johnson, with Stewart 177 out with five races remaining.

Barring a stunning turn of events, that leaves three drivers — Johnson, Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — to decide the title. And with a physical Martinsville race this weekend followed by the ultimate wild-card event at Talladega, the 77-point gap between first and third finds no clear-cut winner yet.