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McMurray strikes late to win Brickyard 400

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On a day when all the talk was about his internationally-renowned teammate, Jamie McMurray showed why he is a force to be reckoned with as well, as he captured his first Brickyard 400 victory and in the process gave owner Chip Ganassi a heralded sweep of the annual events held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

McMurray became just the third driver in NASCAR history to win the coveted Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season. He did it in a fashion that was both unexpected and dramatic by out-dueling runner up Kevin Harvick on a late restart in which he pulled away easily to take the victory before an estimated crowd of 140,000.

While the winner provided plenty of excitement in the waning moments, it was his running mate at Ganassi Racing that was dominant most of the day.

Juan Pablo Montoya put a serious beat down on the field for the second year in a row, only to come up short after a late pit stop. Montoya’s Chevrolet would not handle well at speed in traffic upon the restart and he would eventually wreck an ill-handling car on lap 146 that up to then had been on rails and gave him a stranglehold on the field.

That left it open to McMurray and Harvick to duke it out to the finish, and when McMurray dropped the hammer with 11 laps remaining, he separated himself from the 2003 Brickyard 400 winner and won handily going down the stretch.

“I really thought this was Juan’s day, and as happy as I am now, I do feel badly for him,” said the winner as he was surrounded in Victory Lane by his team and sponsors. “When Juan was in first and I was running second, I really thought that would be the way we would finish.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi, who had won the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year before capturing the Brickyard 400, was obviously walking on air afterwards. “I need oxygen,” claimed Ganassi when asked about his emotions. “Is it surreal? Yes!”

While he finished second, Kevin Harvick remained the points leader for The Sprint Cup Series as the teams head to Pocono Sunday for the Sunoco Red Cross 500. Greg Biffle, who had a car nearly equal to Montoya’s, finished third. Clint Bower placed fourth and two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.

NOTES: McMurray’s victory continues the resurgence of his career since returning to drive for Ganassi after a stint with Roush Racing. The economics of this victory cannot be ignored as while it may be hard to fathom, this superb team was heading toward the start of the season without sponsorship before securing the financial support of Bass Pro Shops.

Hendrick Racing’s dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon both experienced difficulties in the race and were never a factor all day. While both were relatively upbeat in post race interviews, it was obvious that they were embarrassed regarding their performances.

While the attendance was estimated at 140,000, that number seems high to yours truly. While IMS did a splendid job in promoting the race and making it an event for all ages, the reality is this race is not the draw that it once was. The attendance is down at many of the venues that NASCAR competes at, so it is not an isolated circumstance.

The race still draws the largest crowd of the year for the series, and the rich history and allure of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway certainly play a role in that. Still, there are major concerns moving forward on how to recapture fan interest.

Danny Bridges, who salutes all the drivers who raised money for various local charities while they were in town, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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