The Pit Stop

July 7, 2007 10:51 PM

Jamie McMurray Wins Pepsi 400 by .004 Seconds

In one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history, Jamie McMurray held off Kyle Busch by four one thousandths of a second to win the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.

"I can't believe I'm in victory lane right now," an exasperated McMurray said after the race.

For McMurray, it was his first win in 166 races. After some celebratory burnouts, he drove to victory lane for the first time since 2002 at Charlotte where he filled in as a relief driver for Sterling Marlin.

"I always said for five years, however long, there would never be another victory like Charlotte," McMurray said. "And you wait so long to win. Every driver out here can tell you how special it is. I started crying, and I said, 'Why are you crying?' Because I was so happy."

The finish officially tied the second closest finish in NASCAR history. In 1993, Dale Earnhardt beat Ernie Irvan at Talladega by the same margin. The closest finish in the era of electronic scoring came at Darlington in 2003 when Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch by .002 seconds.

The win propelled the 26 team to 13th in the championship standings, just 49 points behind the last eligible spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup with eight weeks still to go until the cutoff race at Richmond in September.

While McMurray celebrated, Busch tried to swallow defeat. All four Hendrick Motorsports cars, Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears, were all at the front in the final ten laps. But as Gordon and Johnson lined up behind Mears, helping him lead laps, Busch was left to fend for himself. The trio lined up on the low side while Mears was leading and then went back up to the high side as Busch protected the low line. The only help he had in the final two laps was from his brother, Kurt Busch, who finished 3rd.

"I guess the bliss is over at Hendrick Motorsports." said Busch, who is leaving the team at the end of the season. "I'm the outsider looking in."

"There were a few opportunities for them to get behind me and push me. Especially [Gordon], he chose not to do so and stayed up high and helped another Roush car."

Busch said Gordon, who finished 5th, blew him off when he tried to "congratulate" him after the race.

Roush-Fenway drivers, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle finished 4th and 6th. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Johnson rounded out the top 10.

Coming into the race, Tony Stewart was the heavy favorite to win the Pepsi 400 for the third straight year. But an early race accident with teammate, Denny Hamlin put Smoke in the garage for the rest of the night. The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were running 1st and 2nd on lap 15 when Hamlin got loose and wiggled in turn 2. Stewart, charging up on the 11, could not slow down in time. He ran into the back of Hamlin's FedEx Kinko's Chevrolet, sending both cars into the wall and eventually out of the race.

Following the wreck, Stewart pinned the blame on Hamlin.

"He just wrecked two really good race cars. He tried to wreck us in practice on Friday and didn't get it done, at least he finished it off today," Stewart said. "He's a young guy and he wants to be successful, but I don't know if he knows what the definition of team is right now."

Hamlin was coming off of his worst finish of the season last week at New Hampshire. Things didn't get easier for the sophomore tonight. He finished 43rd.

"If he wants to blame it on me, I'll be the bigger man and take responsibility for it," Hamlin said. "He's been around this sport longer than I have and he probably knows more than I do, so I'll just take it for what it's worth."

Team owner, Joe Gibbs put the incident into perspective.

"We've got two guys who are very competitive, running up front, we've got real good cars and this is something that can happen," he said. "It's just one of those unfortunate things."

Two time Daytona winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also taken out of the race early courtesy of the Hamlin-Stewart debacle. Junior was running in the top 10 when the two Gibbs cars collided. With nothing but smoke in front of him, he slowed down. Bobby Labonte noticed Earnhardt Jr. checking up and got slowed down in time but Reed Sorenson did not. He hit the back of Labonte's car, sending it into the back of the 8. Earnhardt Jr. finished 36th, 26 laps down.

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