Concord, N.C. Jamie McMurray picked up his third big victory in his comeback season, beating all the championship contenders Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McMurray, winner of the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 this year, passed Kyle Busch on a restart with 21 laps to go to cruise to the win in his Chevrolet. It came eight years after his first career victory, which came at Charlotte, in his second event with Chip Ganassi Racing.
McMurray is not eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, but was better than all the title contenders to become the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race at Charlotte since the format began in 2004.
Busch led a race-high 218 laps but had to settle for second in a Toyota after McMurray easily passed him on the restart. Busch had to hang on for his spot when four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson charged hard over the closing laps.
“Nobody can put it perspective for me, it’s very, very disappointing,” said Busch, who was apoplectic on his radio about the debris caution that wiped out his lead. He also ranted about the restart that allowed McMurray to move ahead of him, and refused to accept that second place was a decent day.
Johnson, who spun early and dropped to 37th, completed an improbable comeback in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin was fourth in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and lost more ground to Johnson in the Chase race.
With five races remaining, Johnson holds a 41-point lead over Hamlin.
They go next to Martinsville Speedway, where Johnson and Hamlin have combined to win the last eight races.