Jamie McMurray might be driving for the first time in NASCAR’s Chase this year, but he’s been around long enough to know not to give away any secrets.
McMurray admitted earlier this week to asking Aric Almirola about what he might expect in the Chase, which begins Sunday in the myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Almirola, not in the postseason this year, competed in the Chase in 2014, also for the first and only time in his career.
“I asked him if he could go back and do something different, what would it be?” McMurray said. “His answer was exactly what I expected. But I wanted confirmation.”
What was that answer?
“I don’t really want to tell you,” McMurray said with a laugh.
McMurray and Paul Menard – the other driver who is in his first Chase – have a lot to figure out as the 10-race playoffs unfold. Not the least of it is the format: The Chase is broken down into four segments, with four drivers being eliminated through each of the first three before the final, single-race segment at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
I’m not going to change how I race.
“When I look at our strategy going in, we would love to win the first round,” said McMurray, who is the 12th seed in the Chase. “But mostly, we don’t want a bad race. Then you look and see who you’re racing in the next round and go on from there.”
McMurray, 39, has waited 14 seasons to make the Chase. It’s taken Menard, 35, 12 years to get there.
McMurray and Menard are competing in the Chase for the first time in their careers.
Menard wants to keep doing what he’s done all season, which, despite also not winning, earned him the 15th seed. That includes keeping his off-track routine the same. Monday is a debriefing day at his Richard Childress Racing shop; Tuesday a workout day; and Wednesday, Menard said, “I might put corn down in the cedars for the deer or go for a paddle on the lake with the family.”
Thursday is a travel day to the race track, in this case Chicagoland.
“I’m not going to change how I race,” Menard said. “This has gotten us to this point. We just need to step it up a little bit. There’s usually a lot of give and take in races, but a lot of the ‘take’ goes away in the Chase. “We’ll all fight tooth and nail.”
0 Combined victories by McMurray and Menard this season
Although McMurray and Menard would both like a win to ensure a spot in the next segment, they both know that moving through the Chase without a win is possible. That happened last season when Ryan Newman – Menard’s RCR teammate – advanced all the way to the final four in Homestead despite not winning all season. Newman strung together five consecutive top-five finishes during one point of the Chase, then finished second behind champion Kevin Harvick at Homestead.
“I don’t know if anyone selected (Newman) for getting to the final round,” McMurray said. “If we can do what he did, getting to Homestead would be a realistic goal. We would just hope our car got better when it counts the most.”
I worry about everything except results. I don’t worry about what-ifs.
Despite making an effort to stay away from a “bad race,” which would put any driver near the bottom of the Chase standings immediately and make things tough for advancement, McMurray thinks there’s more pressure on drivers near the top of the Chase grid.
“You look at the top five or so, they’ve won races all year long and they’re expected to stay there,” McMurray said. “I think one of those guys is going to fall out in the first round.
“A guy who hasn’t been in the Chase watches those guys. Then when you get to the first or second race, or the first cutoff, there are stresses and tensions there that I’m not going to have.
“I don’t live my life that way. I worry about everything except results. When you do your job, racing a car and give your best. When the day’s over and you’ve done that, you’re going to be OK. I don’t worry about what-ifs.”