Five races in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Jamie McMurray has notched three top-10 finishes.
It marks a career-best start to a season for McMurray — a Joplin, Mo., native now in his 15th full-time Cup season — in that regard.
A year ago, McMurray didn’t nab his third top-10 finish until the season’s 15th race.
When he won a career-best three races in 2010, including a Daytona 500 victory to kick off the season, McMurray’s third top-10 didn’t come until the ninth race.
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It’s even better than 2004, when McMurray claimed a top-10 finish in a career-high 23 of 36 races during arguably his best season as a professional driver.
But there’s no mystery to the early-season success, which includes a 10th-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, an eighth-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a sixth-place showing last week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“We’ve had good cars at every race,” McMurray said Saturday morning by phone from Martinsville Speedway, where he’ll start his 514th consecutive Cup Series race Sunday. “Phoenix, the last caution came out and I made a mistake on the restart, so we should have finished top 10 in all of those. Our cars have been good.”
Strong race-day results sometimes can mask performance issues for a team, but McMurray insists the strong start this season for his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet is no mirage.
“Sometimes, you show up and you don’t run good, but you finish good,” said McMurray, who currently is sixth in the driver points standings. “As good as that looks in points, it doesn’t really show how you’ve been running. I feel like we’ve run really well. … We were really quick at Daytona. We were really quick at Fontana. We were quick at Phoenix. We’ve been fast at really every type of track we’ve run at.”
Through the first five races, McMurray’s 13.4 average finish stands as the second-best for his career, trailing only a 13.2 average finish during the 2014 season, and he’s started inside the top 10 each race for the first time in his career.
McMurray’s average starting position of 6.6 is vastly better than he’s qualified in any full season (13.4 in 2010).
“They’re really fast cars,” McMurray said. “I’m not being sarcastic when I say that. Qualifying is a direct result of the speed that you have in your cars.”
McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Kyle Larson, has been sizzling since a breakthrough victory in late August at Michigan International Speedway, posting 11 top-five finishes in the last 18 races.
That includes Larson’s second career Monster Energy Cup Series win last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“Our team’s had to play a little bit of catchup, but it just seems like every week we get a little closer in relation to the other cars on the track,” McMurray said. “It’s so much fun to come every week when you can compete and run as well as we have.”
If anything, McMurray, who will start sixth for the STP 500 at 1 p.m. Sunday at Martinsville Speedway on FS1 after qualifying was rained out, believes he’s underperformed relative to the quality of car he’s had this season.
“Honestly, when a lot of the races have been over, I feel like we should have finished better than where we did,” McMurray said. “So I’m happy with the way we’ve been able to perform at a lot of different type racetracks.”
No track suits McMurray better than Martinsville’s half-mile oval, where he owns 15 top-10 finishes in 28 career starts — far and away his best top-10 percentage at any Cup Series track.