DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Jamie McMurray ended a massive losing streak in dramatic fashion, beating Kyle Busch by a bumper to the finish line of the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night.
McMurray snapped a 166-race winless streak by drag racing with Busch for much of the final two laps at Daytona International Speedway. The cars appeared to touch several times on their final trip around the famed track, and McMurray nosed across the finish line a mere 0.005 seconds ahead of Busch.
It denied Busch a shot at a rare double victory – he won the rain rescheduled Busch Series race 12 hours earlier – but finished second in the main event. He then blamed a lack of cooperation from his Hendrick Motorsports teammates for failing to help him win the race.
“There were a few opportunities for them to get behind me and push me,” Busch said. “Especially (Jeff Gordon), he chose not to do so and stayed up high and helped another Roush car.”
McMurray, one of the Roush Fenway Racing drivers, benefited with his first trip to Victory Lane since 2002 when he scored his only career victory as a replacement driver for an injured Sterling Marlin at Charlotte. The win came in McMurray’s second career start, a NASCAR record, and anointed him as the sport’s newest star.
But expected success never followed as McMurray struggled through the next four seasons. Those down times were not lost on him in an emotional Victory Lane.
“I always said for five years, however long, there would never be another victory like Charlotte,” McMurray said. “And you wait so long to win. Every driver out here can tell you how special it is. I started crying, and I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ Because I was so happy.”
Kurt Busch finished third and was followed by Carl Edwards, Gordon and Greg Biffle.
Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10.
Tony Stewart was denied a chance to climb the fence for a third consecutive year when he wrecked with teammate Denny Hamlin as the two were leading the race just 14 laps in. Stewart, the two-time defending race winner, finished 38th and Hamlin was last in 43rd.
“We’ve got two guys who are very competitive, running up front, we’ve got real good cars and this is something that can happen,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things.”
Busch thought his own situation was unfortunate as he pondered his second-place finish while McMurray celebrated.
The four Hendrick drivers – Busch, Gordon, Johnson and Casey Mears – were all at the front late in the race and had to pick and choose their spots on the track. But Busch often seemed to be on his own, as Johnson and Gordon took turns lining up behind Mears when he was leading, then working together on the outside as Busch stayed low.
So Busch wasn’t surprised when he had no help getting past McMurray on the final two laps, and he said he “got blown off” by Gordon when he tried to congratulate him on Victory Lane.
“I’m the outsider looking in,” said Busch, who is leaving the team at the end of the season to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I guess the bliss is over at Hendrick Motorsports.”