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Jamie McMurray’s runner-up finish at Phoenix continues early season turnaround

McMurray PHX 1 2015 getty

After a rough start to the season, things are starting to go in the right direction for Jamie McMurray.

The Joplin, Mo., native earned his best finish of the season, placing second to race winner Kevin Harvick in Sunday’s 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

It’s McMurray’s best finish since a victory at at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2013.

“We just had a really good weekend,” McMurray said. “Every practice our car was quick, and we qualified well. We just had a mistake-free day and really executed the race perfectly.”

Sunday’s runner-up showing was McMurray’s best in 24 Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix and only his second top-five (and third top 10) on the 1-mile oval.

But more importantly, McMurray’s future seems brighter after a dark start to 2015 with a 27th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and 40th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With an 11th last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the second at Phoenix, McMurray has climbed from 32nd to 19th in the Sprint Cup standings.

McMurray felt he had a shot at a victory Sunday, particularly on the final restart. But Harvick, who led 224 laps, was just too strong.

“When we drove into turn one, I’m like, ‘I’m going to go like hell,’ and hope I could clear him,” McMurray said. “But the car just didn’t seem like it had the grip you needed, and I didn’t want to slide up and wipe everybody out.

“Did I think I had a chance? Yeah, but you just don’t ever know what you’re going to get when you get to the end.”

McMurray isn’t surprised by Harvick’s recent dominance, which he could see since the defending series champion’s arrival at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Ever since he unloaded at the (presason) Charlotte test last year, the first lap, he literally was the fastest car and for a year it’s been that way,” McMurray said “They’re on a roll and I listen to Kevin talk, it just seems to be real good communication between he, (crew chief Rodney Childers), the engineer and the whole team.”

But McMurray also is meshing well with new crew chief Matt McCall in the No. 1 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’m really happy with (finishing) second,” he said. “It would have been nice to be in Victory Lane and know you were locked into the Chase the way the point format goes.

“But as a group, our whole organization, the 1 team, Matt McCall, just awesome cars, and Matt made a great call to stay out (before the final restart). … He did a great job today.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski