Last time Panthers coach visited shop veteran driver won Sprint All-Star Race CONCORD, N.C. -- It was the sort of game-day speech that Ron Rivera has been accustomed to delivering in his four seasons as an NFL head coach -- forceful, designed to inspire and motivate. Tuesday morning, though, his words didn't resonate inside the familiar setting of the Carolina Panthers' locker room but instead in an all-hands team meeting at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' NASCAR headquarters. Rivera's first visit to the Ganassi shop, in May of 2014, wound up being a roaring success. Just days after the Panthers' coach met the team and offered a speech about staying relevant in an evolving sport, Jamie McMurray found himself on Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. With results like those, McMurray might've been prompted to ask what took so long to book the return trip? RELATED: McMurray wins 2014 Sprint All-Star Race "We'll see, I guess, how it goes this weekend," McMurray said with a laugh, pointing toward Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "He's been a really good friend of (team co-owner Felix Sabates), and he's become a really great friend of our team's, and I've become a real big fan of his. When you watch on TV and watch other sports, I don't know that you appreciate everything that goes into it and how talented people are behind the scenes but he is an amazing guy and he is where he is because of his ability." With 19 of 36 Sprint Cup Series races in the books this year, Rivera's speech could almost be considered a slightly belated halftime pep talk. Either way, it comes at a pivotal time for the Ganassi team, which heads into Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, IMS, SiriusXM) with seven regular-season races left to bolster the credentials for both McMurray , the 2010 Brickyard winner, and teammate Kyle Larson in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. It's a spot Rivera was in last year with the Panthers, who rallied from a six-game losing streak midway through to win their final four regular-season games, win a division title and earn a playoff berth. After last weekend's race at New Hampshire, McMurray clings to the 11th spot in the 16-driver Chase Grid while Larson sits 21st in the series standings, having missed a race because of illness. Both drivers are still searching for their first victory in 2015. Rivera's speech was tailored to reach a different audience but the shared bond of teamwork bridged any potential gap between the motorsports world and professional football. That became evident last season when Rivera asked the Ganassi team for footage of the team's race-winning pit stop last May, intending to show his team and to illustrate how the Panthers could benefit from similar coordination and cooperation. It was at last year's All-Star event that Rivera learned that an 18-second pit stop seems fast in layman's terms only. The head coach also learned that the two sports have more in common that one might think. "There are a lot of parallels and first and foremost, it starts with teamwork," Rivera said. "Really, my message is to make sure everyone's doing what they want to do and everybody's doing what the group wants to do because at the end of the day, if somebody's not on board and doing the things that they need to do to give you a chance to win, you're not going to win. Also, the parallel being that last year as a football team, we started hot then had our problems. Same thing with these guys -- they started hot and have had their problems. "And I know at the end of the day, they've still got seven weeks left. They have every opportunity to get into the Chase for the Cup, so who knows. That's really the message, that they can control it. They control their own destiny and the truth of the matter is, on any given Sunday, they're the best race team and they've got a chance to win." After his nearly 20-minute talk, Rivera said he'd welcome the chance to return, adding that spending time in another professional sport helped to enhance his leadership skills. If the coach's presence remains a good-luck charm for the Nos. 1 and 42 Chevrolet teams, he may be called upon as a much more frequent visitor. "To have someone of that caliber available to you to talk to your team in a real-life situation, somebody they know and somebody they respect and understand, that speaks their language, we're really, really lucky to have an outsider like that come in with a little different perspective, but exactly on point," Ganassi said. "We've got seven weeks till the playoffs begin and we want to have both cars in." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray talk about the Daytona wreck that led Austin Dillon into the catch-fence.
A statistical look ahead to the 21st race of the Sprint Cup season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Pennsylvania going into the WINDOWS 10 400 on August 2 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). POCONO-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 16 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 12.421, eighth-best · Average Running Position of 10.246, second-best · Driver Rating of 105.9, third-best · 332 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.733, second-fastest · 2659 Laps in the Top 15 (77.0), second-most · 774 Quality Passes, seventh-most Dale Earnhardt Jr (No. 88 MICROSOFT Chevrolet) · Two wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.900, 11th-best · Average Running Position of 14.002, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 92.6, ninth-best · 102 Fastest Laps Run, third-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.237, eighth-fastest · 2286 Laps in the Top 15 (63.3), eighth-most · 727 Quality Passes, eighth-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 STANLEY Toyota) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.500, 10th-best · Average Running Position of 14.826, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 94.2, eighth-best · 176 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.224, ninth-fastest · 2262 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6), 10th-most · 712 Quality Passes, ninth-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet) · Six wins, 19 top fives, 31 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.650, second-best · Average Running Position of 9.916, series-best · Driver Rating of 103.5, fourth-best · 169 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.625, fifth-fastest · 2777 Laps in the Top 15 (76.9), third-most · 885 Quality Passes, series-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) · Four wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 11.889, seventh-best · Average Running Position of 10.844, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 108.3, series-best · 437 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.806, series-fastest · 2543 Laps in the Top 15 (79.3), series-most · 685 Quality Passes, 10th-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/Budweiser Chevrolet) · Seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 10.600, fifth-best · Average Running Position of 13.743, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.9, 11th-best · 63 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.159, 10th-fastest · 2277 Laps in the Top 15 (63.0), ninth-most · 789 Quality Passes, sixth-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 10.500, third-best · Average Running Position of 10.487, third-best · Driver Rating of 106.9, second-best · 273 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.708, third-fastest · 2774 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8), fourth-most · 861 Quality Passes, fourth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Aquafina Chevrolet) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 18.750, 13th-best · Average Running Position of 14.622, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 92.1, 10th-best · 306 Fastest Laps Run, series-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.436, sixth-fastest · 2199 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9), 11th-most · 804 Quality Passes, fifth-most Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 13.400, ninth-best · Average Running Position of 14.786, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 90.8, 12th-best · 96 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.894, 13th-fastest · 852 Laps in the Top 15 (50.1), 13th-most · 306 Quality Passes, 12th-most Kyle Larson (No. 42 Suave Men Chevrolet) · One top five, two top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 8.000, series-best · Average Running Position of 12.672, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 95.7, sixth-best · 2 Fastest Laps Run, 13th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.690, fourth-fastest · 230 Laps in the Top 15 (71.9), seventh-most · 87 Quality Passes, 13th-most Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · One win, three top fives, five top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 16.583, 12th-best · Average Running Position of 13.811, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 88.9, 13th-best · 61 Fastest Laps Run, second-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.097, 12th-fastest · 1190 Laps in the Top 15 (56.6), 12th-most · 456 Quality Passes, 11th-most Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · One win, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.500, fourth-best · Average Running Position of 11.426, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.3, seventh-best · 36 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.135, 11th-fastest · 2689 Laps in the Top 15 (74.4), fifth-most · 883 Quality Passes, second-most Tony Stewart (No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 22 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.600, sixth-best · Average Running Position of 12.223, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.6, fifth-best · 99 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.319, seventh-fastest · 2619 Laps in the Top 15 (72.5), sixth-most · 880 Quality Passes, third-most Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 29 0 0 7 11 2 13.2 91.9 2 Joey Logano 13 2 1 3 5 1 15.6 88.9 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr 31 1 2 9 13 1 15.2 92.6 4 Jimmie Johnson 27 3 3 11 18 1 9.6 106.9 5 Martin Truex Jr 19 0 1 3 7 0 15.1 80.4 6 Brad Keselowski 11 0 1 3 4 0 13.7 90.8 7 Matt Kenseth 31 0 0 3 11 1 15.7 86.7 8 Kurt Busch 28 2 2 12 16 5 14.4 105.9 9 Jamie McMurray 25 1 0 0 7 3 19.3 73.1 10 Denny Hamlin 19 3 4 9 13 2 11.8 108.3 11 Jeff Gordon 45 2 6 19 31 5 10 103.5 12 Ryan Newman 27 2 1 9 14 3 12.4 95.3 13 Paul Menard 17 0 0 0 2 1 23.6 64.6 14 Kasey Kahne 23 2 2 5 8 3 17.6 92.1 15 Clint Bowyer 19 0 0 2 8 0 14.6 82.8 16 Carl Edwards 21 0 2 5 8 1 15.5 94.2 * – Based on last 21 races at Pocono Raceway (2005 – 2015). Kyle Busch ’s Chase Eligibility 30th Justin Allgaier 317 Rank Driver Wins Points Points From 30th 31 Cole Whitt 0 314 -3 32 Kyle Busch 4 294 -23 33 Brett Moffitt # 0 266 -51 34 Alex Bowman 0 245 -72 35 Michael Annett 0 230 -87 36 Matt DiBenedetto # 0 205 -112 37 Josh Wise 0 186 -131 38 Michael McDowell 0 124 -193 39 Jeb Burton 0 111 -206 40 Alex Kennedy 0 71 -246 * To be eligible for the Chase, the driver must be in the top 30 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following race number 26. Pocono Raceway Data Season Race #: 21 of 36 (08-02-15) Track Size : 2.5-miles Banking/Turn 1 : 14 degrees Banking/Turn 2 : 8 degrees Banking/Turn 3 : 6 degrees Frontstretch Length : 3,740 feet Backstretch Length : 3,055 feet Shortstretch Length : 1,780 feet Race Length : 160 laps / 400 miles Top 10 Driver Ratings at Pocono Denny Hamlin ............................ 108.3 Jimmie Johnson ........................ 106.9 Kurt Busch ................................ 105.9 Jeff Gordon .............................. 103.5 Tony Stewart ............................... 97.6 Kyle Larson ................................ 95.7 Ryan Newman ............................. 95.3 Carl Edwards .............................. 94.2 Dale Earnhardt Jr ........................ 92.6 Kasey Kahne .............................. 92.1 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2015 races (21 total) among active drivers at Pocono Raceway. Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Kyle Larson , Chevrolet 183.438 mph, 49.063 secs, 08-01-14 2014 race winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Chevrolet 127.411 mph, (03:08:22), 08-03-14 Track qualifying record: Kyle Larson , Chevrolet 183.438 mph, 49.610 secs, 08-03-14 Track race record: Jeff Gordon , Chevrolet 145.384 mph, (03:26:21), 06-12-11 At Pocono Raceway: History · Opened in 1968 as a three-quarter-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was in 1974 – won by Richard Petty , Dodge, 115.593 mph, 08/04/1974. · The 2.5-mile track was repaved during the fall of 2011. · 2012 marked the first season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway. Starts · There have been 75 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway, one race from 1974 through 1981, and two per year since. · 327 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway; 229 in more than one. · Ricky Rudd leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in starts at Pocono with 55. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 45 starts (eighth most all-time) at Pocono; followed by Tony Stewart with 33 starts. · Denny Hamlin (19 starts) leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Pocono with a 6.632. Poles · 40 drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader with five each; Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin lead all active drivers with three each. · Buddy Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Pocono in 1974 with a speed of 144.122 mph. · Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Pocono with three; fall 1984 and both races in 1985. · Two active drivers have posted consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono: Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep) and Joey Logano (fall 2011 and spring 2012). · Youngest Pocono pole winner: Joey Logano (08/07/2011 – 21 years, 2 months, 14 days). · Oldest Pocono pole winner: David Pearson (06/10/1984 – 49 years, 5 months, 19 days). · Kyle Larson (8/03/2014) and Casey Mears (8/1/2004) posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Pocono Raceway. Wins · 33 different drivers have won at Pocono Raceway, led by Jeff Gordon with six wins. · Seven active drivers have multiple wins at Pocono: Jeff Gordon (6), Denny Hamlin (4), Jimmie Johnson (3), Carl Edwards , Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart (each have 2). · Seven drivers have posted consecutive wins at Pocono Raceway all-time, including three consecutive by Bobby Allison (1982 sweep and spring 1983) and Tim Richmond (1986 sweep and spring 1987). · Three of the seven drivers to win consecutive races at Pocono are active: Jimmie Johnson (2004 sweep); Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep and 2009 fall and 2010 spring races) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (2014 sweep). · Youngest Pocono winner: Joey Logano (06/10/2012 – 22 years, 0 months, 17 days). · Oldest Pocono winner: Harry Gant (06/17/1990 – 50 years, 5 months, 7 days). · Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Pocono in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 17: Jeff Gordon (six), Tim Richmond (three), Jimmie Johnson (three), Dale Earnhardt Jr . (two), Kasey Kahne (one), Geoff Bodine (one) and Terry Labonte (one). · Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Pocono; led by Chevrolet with 31 victories; followed by Ford with 21 and Toyota has three. · 13 of the 75 (17.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Joey Logano (June, 2012). · 15 of the 74 (20%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the first starting position; the most recent was Jimmie Johnson (June, 2013). · The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Pocono Raceway. · 24 of the 75 (32%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the front row: 15 from the first starting position and nine from second-place. · 53 of the 75 (70.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Five of the 75 (6.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Pocono is 29th, by Carl Edwards in the spring of 2005. · One active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has posted his first career win at Pocono Raceway: Denny Hamlin (06/11/06). · Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are the only two active drivers to win at Pocono in their first appearances. · Matt Kenseth leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono without visiting Victory Lane at 31; followed by Kevin Harvick with 29. Additional Finishing Position Stats · Mark Martin leads the series in runner-up finishes at Pocono with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six; followed by Kurt Busch with five. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-five finishes at Pocono with 20; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19; followed by Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart with 12 each. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-10 finishes at Pocono with 34; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 31; followed by Tony Stewart with 22. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Pocono with a 9.630. Track Specific Stats · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in
Jamie McMurray talks about his initial reaction to the Jeff Gordon retirement news and how hard it must be for an athlete to stop when they are still at the top of their game.
Former race engineer for No. 31 team starts immediately RELATED: See other changes for 2015 Jamie McMurray will have a new crew chief for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Matt McCall will take the reins of the No. 1 Chevrolet team from Keith Rodden for Chip Ganassi Racing effective immediately. McCall joins the team from Richard Childress Racing , where he served as the race engineer for the No. 31 team of Ryan Newman , which finished as the runner-up in the Sprint Cup championship. McCall has experience competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a driver. He also served as a crew chief for one race in 2013 for Jeff Burton at Indianapolis. The Denver, North Carolina, native graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a major in mechanical engineering. "I am very excited to join the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team," McCall said in a team release. "This organization is one that everyone in the garage has taken notice of in 2014 and I am just looking forward to the opportunity to make them even better. We have a group of very talented people building and driving the race cars here and I can't wait to get started." There was no immediate word on Rodden's future with Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2014, McMurray finished with the most top-fives (seven) since 2010 and the most top-10s (13) since 2004. In addition to winning the 2014 Sprint All-Star Race, McMurray and Rodden really seemed to find their stride in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. While McMurray did not qualify for the 10-race playoff, he racked up four top-five finishes in that 10-race stretch. "I am really looking forward to 2015 and beginning to work with Matt," McMurray said in a team release. "As a team, I think we will carry a lot of momentum into Daytona and the hiring of Matt will continue to move the program forward." McMurray , who has competed in the sport's premier series full time for 12 years, has seven wins -- including the 2010 Daytona 500 . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Team owner won at the Brickyard in 2010 with driver Jamie McMurray Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds a special spot in Chip Ganassi's heart, as a backdrop to his five starts as an IndyCar driver to his five wins as a car owner -- one in NASCAR and four in the Indianapolis 500. The track's rich history, the sense of place -- all are palpable when his team sets up camp in Gasoline Alley for a race weekend in either series. But despite his fondness for Indy, Ganassi insists there's not a Target-red marker to circle the Speedway's place on the NASCAR calendar for emphasis. With seven races left to get his drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson in position for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, the 57-year-old team owner said each event carries its own importance. "I don't think there's any extra pressure. If there's any pressure at all, it's every race," Ganassi says. "There's a certain amount that goes with every event, but I mean, Indy is in some sense a big event and I know our guys like big events. In another sense, it's just another race and we want to approach it the same way, but we're certainly excited about going there." The sense of time and place is also meaningful for McMurray heading into Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM), an event he won as part of his banner season of 2010, his first with the team that is now known as Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. In some ways, McMurray says, his Brickyard victory seems like a distant memory but in other ways not as much. Ganassi's longest-tenured driver said he often frames events now in relation to his children's ages. At the time of his Indy win, his wife, Christy, was pregnant with the couple's first child, Carter -- now 4 1/2 years old. Their status as happy parents-to-be comes through in all the photos from Victory Lane and the traditional kiss of the yard of bricks at the start-finish line, but so is the joy shared by Ganassi and Sabates savoring their first stock-car triumph at the birthplace of Indianapolis-style racing. The venerable Speedway certainly remains cherished, but McMurray said the approach doesn't change for this weekend. "I don't remember Chip ever mentioning anything about this race being more important to him than any other race, even though he has the background with the IndyCar team and has the shop based there," McMurray said. "It was a really big deal for us to be able to win there in 2010 -- the pictures, the memories … I loved getting to watch the TV footage afterward of how excited Chip was with Felix being able to win there. But honestly, I don't remember him ever mentioning anything about we need to put more effort into this weekend over any other." Some extra effort will be necessary this weekend, if only because a new, high-drag aero package awaits Sprint Cup teams. To help teams adjust to the rules changes, Friday practice has been expanded to three sessions totaling four hours and 40 minutes, an increase of one hour, 25 minutes from 2014. The extra time might be welcome for crew chiefs such as Matt McCall , in his first year overseeing McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet. A raised rear spoiler and other aero devices are expected to produce closer, almost pack-style racing at Indianapolis this weekend and at Michigan International Speedway next month but McCall said he's reserving judgment on how cars will react until his team can log track time. "Obviously, you've got wind tunnel data to think you know what it's going to be like, but until they actually make some laps …," McCall said, trailing off with a slight shrug. "I think a couple of cars put the package on at the Chicago test (last week), so with a little bit of feedback, we'll be able to pay attention to that. Still, once you get most of the cars on the race track, you'll get a better idea of what will happen. "It's different, so that's sort of good. Any type of change that'll get your mind thinking a different way, I'm all about it. Sometimes the setup gets so repetitive that it's the same every single week, so pretty cool to have a chance to play on something different." NASCAR officials instituted a low-downforce package two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway, producing a harder-to-handle car that placed greater emphasis on driver input. The result was the most competitive Sprint Cup race -- measured in green-flag passes -- in the series' five-year run in the Bluegrass State. The widely different trim of the Indianapolis package may be signaling a shift toward track-specific setups, all in the hope of promoting better racing with tailor-made aerodynamics. With that concept just beginning to take root, Ganassi said it's still too early to weigh potential benefits against possible drawbacks. "I have mixed feelings about it and what I've found, I had some feelings about the Kentucky package that really were unfounded concerns, I realized later," Ganassi said. "So I want to be careful what I say about Indianapolis and kind of go in with an open mind. I think in one sense, it's a bit of an equalizer in that no one's tested that package there. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens and it could be an advantage for us." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
CGR duo scores top-10 finishes with McMurray challenging Harvick late RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway brought the two-car Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization something that became very familiar in the latter part of the season: two top-10 finishes. Strategy plays to stay out on older tires led Jamie McMurray to a runner-up finish and Kyle Larson to a 10th-place finish. McMurray gave race winner and Phoenix dominator Kevin Harvick a late challenge on the final restart on Lap 301, but he couldn't quite get ahead of the defending Sprint Cup Series champion. The late restart was something in particular that McMurray lamented after the race. "If I could do my restart over again right now, I would have done something a little different," McMurray said. What exactly would he have done? "It was really hard on the last two restarts to get any drive," McMurray said. "When you would get to the corner, it didn't want to turn and it was loose. No grip. Sliding around a lot. Honestly, when I went through one and two I felt like I totally missed the corner and I was waiting to hear, three-wide, you're in the middle. I heard, clear. I wish I would have moved up immediately. He had momentum on the outside. "I didn't feel like I was clear. The cars are kind of like what we have at Daytona. When you're clear of someone or when someone gets to your quarter panel, you can feel it bog the car down. I didn't feel like I was clear. Hindsight, I would have listened to my spotter a little bit and just moved up. I felt like I missed the corner so I didn't have any idea how I could be clear." Still, McMurray was pleased with the day overall and praised crew chief Matt McCall 's late-race call to stay out on older tires in just his fourth race as the crew chief for the No. 1 team. "I'm really happy with second. It would be nice to be in Victory Lane and know you were locked into the Chase the way the point format works. "Matt did a great job calling the race. That's hard in your first four or five races to make that decision in the end to stay out on old tires. In hindsight, it was the right one. "When you're in the car, you run that many laps, you know how bad the car feels, when he asks me, 'what do you want to do?' I'm like, you're the crew chief. I'm going to do whatever you think is right.' He did a great job today." The two drivers carry their mojo forward at Phoenix and used quick stops on pit road to do so. McMurray spent the least amount of time on pit road (160.584 total seconds) and Larson spent the third-least amount of time on pit road (163.666 total seconds). Last season, despite not being in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff, McMurray and Larson were arguably two of the strongest cars during that 10-race stretch, combining for 11 top-10 finishes (Larson had 6, McMurray had 5). The first races of 2015 did not see that strong late-season showing carry over as the organization's Daytona and Atlanta results drew finishes of 26th-or-worse in both races. The team seemed to regain its footing with last weekend at Las Vegas with Larson finishing eighth and McMurray finishing 11th. For Larson, the second straight top-10 was a welcomed sight and he gained four spots in the point standings to move up to 17th. "I'm happy to get a second top-10," Larson said on pit road after the race. "Wish we could have been a little bit better. Wish it would have stayed green there a little bit more without getting those last couple cautions because we were all good on fuel." Now, the California native is preparing to head back home for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX). The reigning Sunoco Rookie of the Year scored his first career top-five finish there last year with a runner-up showing. "Last year, we finished second but we weren't racing up front the whole time," Larson said. "We just had a good restart. But we've learned a lot with our intermediate cars so we should be a lot better when we go back. We'll just have to wait and see when it comes to practice on Friday." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Larson: 'We've had fast race cars ... we just haven't caught the breaks we needed to' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live LAS VEGAS -- Tucked in on the far side of the diamond-shaped Las Vegas Motor Speedway garage, a good hike away from the busy vibe and buzz of the entryway on the opposite side of the paddock, sit the two Chip Ganassi Racing transporters of drivers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray . A few garage stalls away from the Ganassi teammates' Chevys are the cars belonging to Sunday's Kobalt 400 pole-winner Jeff Gordon and three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart . Four teams that have been fast and been in contention in 2015, but that have no results to show for it. Yet. Gordon, who won the Daytona 500 pole and was the fastest qualifier again for Sunday's race, will instead start in the rear of the field in a backup No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after being collected in a crash during the final minute of Saturday's final practice. He has finished 33rd and 41st in the first two races of his final full-time season and wrecked in both. Stewart, who showed good speed at Daytona and will start 12th Sunday, has finishes of 42nd and 30th for the year. And the Ganassi teammates of Larson and McMurray -- two of the hottest drivers in the closing races of the 2014 season -- have picked up right where they left off: Fast. Both ran up front during the Daytona 500 and both advanced to the final round of qualifying last week at Atlanta. McMurray and Larson were 1-2 in the second round of qualifying on Friday here in Las Vegas, advancing to the final 12 of time trials again. It's the finishing that's at issue. Larson -- who will start fifth Sunday in his No. 42 Target Chevy -- has finishes of 34th (Daytona) and 26th (Atlanta). McMurray -- who will start 10th in his No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet -- has finishes of 27th and 40th. "We've had fast race cars, both of us, we just haven't caught the breaks we needed to,'' said Larson, the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. "I was running 10th at the white flag in Daytona and we got jumbled up and wrecked. At Atlanta, I thought we had a top-five car and then had a bunch of issues about three-quarters of the way through the race. I hit someone on a green-flag pit stop and then my shifter broke for the second week in a row.'' "The main thing is we have fast race cars, so we're not worried yet. The good part of the new format is you can win one race and you're back in it. I'm confident in my team.'' Larson's crew chief Chris Heroy is equally confident in the team, but more than ready for a change in fortune. "I'm a believer you make your own luck to a certain extent,'' Heroy said of Larson's unfortunate race finishes. "This week is really about tightening up the details, not having a shifter fall off into his lap in a race." "Having fast cars definitely helps you get through the week when you have had problems like we’ve had. I believe you create your own luck to a certain extent but we have had some pretty unique circumstances. All we can do is focus on the details and get these cars and Kyle the finishes they deserve. We've made major changes already in pursuit of that and we won't stop until we get there." McMurray , a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner, said that despite the scorecard, he's found great solace in the season start. "Even though we haven't finished well, it's been a really good start to our season for the 1 and the 42 car,'' McMurray said. "And with (new crew chief) Matt (McCall) coming over and the little bit of rules changes we had and the different engine package you don't really know if you're going to pick up where you left off last year. "I was optimistic but very quiet about how I felt about that. I knew there was a chance things might not pick up right where we ended. Plus, not having any testing and as a team not getting to work together, you really don't have a clue where you're going to be. "But we're probably faster this year than we were even at the end of last year. I say that for both cars. We've really been top-five cars at the first two intermediate tracks, lots of speed." If fans had to do a double-take on the Ganassi locale in the Vegas garage, so did the team's drivers. Their uncharacteristically lower ranking in the drivers points puts them in a section of the garage more typically filled by lesser-funded, smaller operations that consider a top-20 race result a fantastic day. Being further down in the points standings has very tangible disadvantages. "It's hard, it stinks, especially where we are parked here in the garage, you don't get to get on the track right away when practice starts,'' McMurray said. "But I've watched Matt Kenseth or Jimmie Johnson blow up in the 500 and I think Jimmie won the championship that year. "It's frustrating to have a couple bad races. Plate races are always a gamble, but Atlanta was somewhere we definitely should have finished in the top-10 and you would have recovered from your Daytona 500 immediately and had your mulligan in the bag. "When you have two bad races, we have to have the next five go really well to move back up in the points and get to where we need to be." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Fourth-place finish at Richmond a sign of continued 2015 success Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RICHMOND, Va. -- Stock-car racing leaves no option for do-overs, and little room for regrets. Jamie McMurray had neither one after coming up short Sunday afternoon behind dominant race-winner Kurt Busch . McMurray made the most of a car better suited to long green-flag stints in the rain-delayed Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway , keeping pace with and making gains on Busch in the later stages of the race. But the timing of three caution flags in the final 50 laps conspired against the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet team, offering only short runs of green-flag racing near the end. Though McMurray faded to a fourth-place finish -- behind Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson -- by the checkered flag, he left Richmond without any of the nagging "what-ifs" that sometimes lead to sleepless nights. "I mean, when I look back at our race today, you go home and lay down tonight and you think about everything, I really ‑‑ there's nothing that I could have done any better," said McMurray , who led twice for four laps. "I just didn't have a car that was quick on the short run. I had one that would go at the end. When I look back at those restarts, if I could have gotten ahead of him, I still don't know I could have held him up. I thought as a team, driver, crew chief, we did a really good job today." Though the finish was just his second top-five of the season (the other being a runner-up effort last month in Phoenix), Sunday's race represented another building block for McMurray and new crew chief Matt McCall , serving in just his ninth race atop the pit box for the No. 1 camp. It's also another stride toward ending a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series losing skid that stands at 49 races, dating back to October 2013 at Talladega Superspeedway , site of the circuit's next race. McMurray said the communication between himself and the team has improved, but so have his chances of breaking back into Victory Lane, a step that would push him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs for the first time in his career. "You know, last year I thought was probably my best year in Cup racing, even though we didn't have the wins that we did in 2010," said McMurray , who did cash in with a win in the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race last May. "I thought consistently we were the best. When we had this crew chief change, I was a little bit nervous about what was going to happen. But Matt has done an exceptional job. Honestly our cars are probably better, are better this year than what they were last year, and he's done a really nice job of calling the races and giving me a really fun car to drive that's fast. “You know, honestly, I look at every week like we'll have a chance to win. The 4 (Harvick) and the 41 (Busch) are extremely quick, but I think we proved today that we have a team and a car capable of, put in the right position, to compete with those guys. I'm really happy with my team." According to McCall, in his first full season as a Sprint Cup crew chief, the feeling is mutual. "It's going great. He's easy to get along with, and that helps," McCall said. "He's the type of person that makes it really easy to communicate. He tells you what's wrong with it and we attempt to fix it. That's the way it's been going. I can't complain. We want to win races and that's what we're coming each week to do. Hope we keep pushing ahead and make that happen. "Fortunately, I feel like every week we roll in with equipment where we should have a legitimate chance to win if we can put all the pieces on the puzzle correctly." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Drivers give feedback on new rules package at Indy SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- There was the unexpected stall on track by six-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the opening session and the hood on the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin that disintegrated just as the second practice got underway, but neither were related to the new high drag aerodynamic package that debuted Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams began preparations for Sunday's Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard with a taller spoiler (9-inches), a 1-inch wicker bill, as well as changes to the splitter and splitter extension panel. The move could improve passing on the narrow, 2.5-mile track. But the jury was still out after nearly five hours of on-track activity Friday. "Passing will be tough to say the least," Hamlin, fastest in the first of three sessions, said. "We're trying something new. I can't fault (NASCAR) for trying – they tried what we wanted to try and I thought we had a pretty successful race (at Kentucky) and now we're trying something different. "We'll see if it's better or not. Still, here is a very tough race track. This is a one-groove race track where it's definitely been tough to pass here for 15 years or as long as I've been here. It's just going to be one of those tough tracks." Johnson's troubles were the result of a faulty fuel pump. Hamlin's miscue came as a result of hood pins that weren't properly secured. Other than a spin here, a brush with the wall there, it was a day most spent trying to find the balance between speed and drivability. Some found it; some are still searching. NASCAR rolled out a low downforce setup for the Kentucky race, and while the tire provided wasn't built specifically for the package, the results were generally favorable. A version of the Indy package, which will also be in play next month when the series returns to Michigan International Speedway, was tested briefly last year. Because of the uncertainties, teams were allowed one engine change prior to Saturday's qualifying and also ran their practices with on-board data acquisition systems. Teams were instructed to bring four different gears to Indy for possible use, starting with a 3.70 before giving option of 3.70 or 3.75 gear for the second session. By the final practice, the options were 3.75 and 3.80. "I honestly think until we get into the race on Sunday that it's hard to get anyone's true opinion on what we are going to have," Jamie McMurray ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) said. "… I really don't. To me on Sunday when you get two cars side-by-side with this package the guy in third is going to have an extra engine. It's going to be crazy the amount of speed that he is going to have. I don't know, the restarts are going to be pretty wild, I think." Teams did take part in an open test here in April, following a two-day Goodyear tire test. But the high drag package was not a part of those tests. The data gathered months ago isn't completely useless, Team Penske driver Joey Logano said, but much of it no longer relates. "I think a lot of that transfers over, but there is still quite a bit of difference," he said. "When you look at your wedge or your track bar or nose weight -- those three things for sure, maybe rear springs -- those changed probably the most when you have a package that's so different than what they tested here or what we ran last year even. "We're just trying to find a balance for those three and those … are a challenge enough, but obviously there's a lot more to that package than just that." A day that began for teams at 6:30 a.m. ended with most sifting through data, changing engines, and "basically totally re-prep your car," Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler said. "This was a hell of a day." What, if anything, was learned? "I think it's definitely going to take guys being forced into situations, which is what the race does, to make things happen," he said. "Something that just never happens in practice. You can't force guys to do that. … It is, he said, "a lot of the reason why NASCAR has gone in the direction of ‘hey, we're going to go to the race track and see what happens.' "We've all spent a lot time, energy, resources on going to large scale tests and you still just never generate the motivation for guys to put themselves in uncomfortable positions. "There has to be something on the line and I think kissing the bricks is as much on the line as guys can get." Kurt Busch ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) led the final practice. Coors Light Pole qualifying (NBCSN) to set the 43-car field is scheduled to being at 1:10 p.m. ET Saturday. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule