At Sonoma

Jamie McMurray looks to snap skid at Sonoma

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

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Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 CESSNA Chevrolet, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2013 in Sonoma, California.

EZRA SHAW — Getty

— Stats don’t always tell the best stories in racing.

Just ask Jamie McMurray.

McMurray’s average finish at Sonoma Raceway is 17.1, but he has been looking forward to Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 as a chance for his first Sprint Cup Series win since 2010.

Apparently for good reason.

In the debut of NASCAR’s new group qualifying format for road courses, McMurray’s average lap speed of 94.986 mph was good enough to win the pole for Sunday’s race.

It’s McMurray’s first pole in 81 races dating to the April 2011 race at Martinsville, Va. He owns one previous pole at Sonoma (2007) and his best finish at the track was second in 2004.

“We were just able to put it all together. That is really cool,” said McMurray, whose previous best start this season was sixth at Bristol, Tenn.

“The race is really fun, it’s just that this place can get a little bit frustrating at the end of the race if they have a late-race restart. It’s always wild in Turn 4 and Turn 7. I have been on the good end of it and I’ve been on the bad end of it.”

Stats also don’t tell the whole story of the progression of McMurray and the entire Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing operation.

After posting a combined seven Top-10 finishes in the past two seasons, McMurray already has three through 15 races this year.

He was ranked as high as 11th in the series standings this year through eight races – and appeared to have a chance at qualifying for the Chase for the Cup – until a string of bad finishes dropped him to 21st entering Sunday’s race.

McMurray was running 10th at Richmond, Va., and dropped to 25th after a wild green-white-checkered restart. He was running 10th at Charlotte before a radiator break. At Dover, he ran over debris, which put a hole in his radiator. Last week at Michigan, McMurray blew a tire late in the race.

Those poor results don’t illustrate how much the teams and its cars have improved this season, McMurray said.

“When you blow a right-front tire and you don’t feel like you did anything wrong, that is just bad luck. I feel like we have been really unlucky, but our cars have been really good,” he said.

“I tell you that because the morale on our team, not just the No. 1 team, but the No. 42 team, everybody is very excited about what we have going on right now. We feel like performance-wise, we are really good.

“I think we are better than we were in 2010 when we were able to win all the races.”

Marcos Ambrose qualified secondt, Carl Edwards was third, Greg Biffle was fourth and last year’s race winner, Clint Bowyer, was fifth. Series points points leader Jimmie Johnson will line up 19th.

After qualifying Ambrose’s team examined his No. 9 Ford after his engine suddenly shut off as he approached the green flag for his first qualifying lap. The engine popped back on but left Ambrose with an uneasy feeling.

“It was just bad timing for it to happen like it did. It came back on, too, so it was like the motor quit and then it came back, so the mystery of it cutting out was just as surprising when it came back to life,” Ambrose said.

“We’ll look at it. We’ll change probably switches and things like that to make sure there’s nothing wrong there in the wiring and we’ll go from there.”

Martin Truex Jr. posted the 14th-fastest qualifying lap but was forced to get out of his car before the end of his five-minute group session when smoke began pouring out of his No. 56 Toyota.

Truex’s team thinks the problem was an electrical fire related to his cool box. Since the issue was not engine-related, Truex will retain his starting position.

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