DARLINGTON, South Carolina – Kyle Larson’s win at Michigan International Speedway made life on the Chase bubble a little more difficult.
Larson became the 12th driver to lock into the playoffs when he scored his first win of the season in the Pure Michigan 400. But in doing so, Larson bumped his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray, onto the bubble with two races remaining.
McMurray is 16th on the Chase grid with a 15-point advantage over Ryan Newman.
Tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 is the next-to-last race in the regular season, and if McMurray wants to make the Chase for the second consecutive season, he’ll need to start with his first top-10 finish at Darlington since 2011.
But even with the pressure mounting for those who have not locked up a spot in the playoffs, it seems the approach is going to remain the same.
“Just do exactly what we’ve been doing,” McMurray said during a teleconference Friday. “As an organization, our cars are better right now than they have been all year long. At the beginning of the year, we did a really good job of making sure we finished and maybe getting a little bit more out of, finishing better than where you ran most of the race. So that kept us in a position to be in the Chase.”
McMurray’s fight has gotten tougher the last few weeks as Chris Buescher and Larson each scored their first win of the season. McMurray remains confident.
“We’ve run so well the last few weeks, and we’re going to two tracks that historically I’ve run pretty well at,” he said. “So, if we don’t have anything crazy happen, we’re going to be in really good shape.”
McMurray’s business as usual attitude is shared by Chase Elliott.
Elliott is 14th on the Chase Grid, 27 points ahead of Newman, the first driver outside a transfer spot. As the highest-seeded driver without a win, Elliott was in a position to lock himself into the Chase last week before Larson got the best of him on a restart with nine laps to go.
Disappointment aside, Elliott vowed Saturday at Darlington that his Hendrick Motorsports team would keep their focus forward.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but I think if you’re worried about running 14th, 15th, and 16th and beating the guys that are running right there, that is where you’re going to run,” Elliott said. “I just think unless you have your sights set on the right things and trying to contend for a win and a good finish that’s where you’re going to be, is back there.”
Sunday will be Elliott’s second Sprint Cup start at Darlington. Last year, he finished 41st after crashing. Elliott also has two Xfinity Series starts at Darlington under his belt, including a win in 2014.
Entering tonight’s race, though, Elliott doesn’t believe there’s much that his Xfinity win will do for him except count towards laps completed — something he plans on doing not only at Darlington but Richmond as he lets the points take care of themselves.
“I think making sure you have your goals set in the right spots is the biggest thing, and we just try to go do our jobs the best we can and just kind of see how the race plays out,” Elliott said.