Jamie McMurray could hardly wait to get the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season going.

After all, he closed out last year with five top-10 finishes in the last six races, including three straight third-place runs to end the season.

But after a 33rd-place showing in the No. 26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford at New Hampshire on Sunday, McMurray finds himself a disappointing 22nd in the season standings. Heading into Saturday’s race at Daytona — where the last of his two Cup wins came in July 2007 — McMurray has just three top-10s this year with his best finish a seventh-place at Richmond.

“At the beginning of the season, we probably ran a little bit better than what we are right now,” McMurray said. “We ended last year with those three third-place finishes and started the year off qualifying really well, and we actually raced real well, (but) had flat tires, a transmission break and other stuff.

“We haven’t run that bad, we just haven’t been stellar. And some of that has been circumstantial. I believe we’ve had a little bit better car than where we’ve finished.”

Teammates Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are all among the top 12 and appear headed for berths in the Chase for the championship, while McMurray and David Ragan, 30th in the points, continue to struggle.

McMurray said any problems he and Ragan have are not from a lack of team communication.

“They share everything,” he said. “Anything that any engineer, crew chief or driver wants from another team is there. It’s just that it doesn’t always work for you.

“I feel like Matt and I share the most. If we have a weekend where we’ve tried a lot of things and it hasn’t worked and Matt has a different setup, I would feel very confident putting that in. And Matt is the same way towards me.

But Kenseth, who started the year with victories at Daytona and California, is 10th in the points and McMurray is all but out of the race for the Chase.

“Our cars still drive pretty good, but it’s just that it’s so much closer this year than what it was even was last year,” McMurray said. “And I think by our team not qualifying as well as it has, that’s hurt us a little bit. But it doesn’t take much to make your car better.

“I don’t think that we need to reinvent the wheel. I think it’s just fine-tuning. Racing goes in spurts. Last year when we were qualifying so well and we were finishing in the top three the last few races, we didn’t do anything different than we did the rest of the season or what we’re doing right now. It’s just the cautions kind of fell your way and you just kind of hit on something each weekend.”

McMurray is hoping that type of magic will happen again, and soon.

Roush Fenway has to cut down to four Cup cars next season to meet NASCAR’s rules and McMurray knows he could be the odd man out.

But after spending most of the 2005 season — his last year with Chip Ganassi’s team — dealing with the rumor mill, McMurray is keeping his future plans to himself.

“In 2005, I was like, ‘This is great, everybody is talking about me,’ I found out there’s no advantage of being involved in all of that,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained by that.”

Whatever happens, McMurray insists he is enjoying racing more than ever at 33.

“Honestly, I probably enjoy racing now more than I ever have,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve become a better driver. But with experience, you make wiser decisions and you learn certain things about racetracks. And I enjoy the stuff off the track, like sponsor appearances and talking with fans, more than I did when I first got into this.”

One reason he is enjoying himself, despite the lack of results, is being back together with crew chief Donnie Wingo, who joined the team over the winter.

“That transition’s been effortless and Donnie’s fit right in,” McMurray said. “I worked with him for four years at Ganassi. As long as when the day’s over, you feel like the engineer and the crew chief did everything that they could, that’s satisfactory. Sometimes, you get the result and sometimes you don’t.”

With just nine races remaining before the start of the Chase, McMurray — 316 points behind 12th-place Juan Pablo Montoya — knows his chances of making NASCAR’s postseason aren’t very good. But he’s trying to stay optimistic.

“I really feel like this is the best team I’ve ever been with,” he said. “We have a really, really solid group of guys and I think that anything is possible.

“If you finish in the top five, the amount of points you accumulate, it’s incredible. I don’t think until you’re mathematically eliminated, you never give up.”


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