When the green flag drops on Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray will mark an achievement together with their 500th starts in the Sprint Cup Series.
The last time two drivers made their 500th starts in the same race was Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte at Watkins Glen International in 1995.
“I’m really excited about making my 500th start,” said Biffle in a team release. “It’s been a great ride and it’s amazing how fast the time goes by. I’ve got a lot of memories, wins, close races and fun times. I’ve won a lot of great races and look forward to running for that third championship.”
Biffle and McMurray did not make their first starts together, but their careers are intertwined.
The oldest full-time driver on the Cup circuit at 46, Biffle broke into the series on April 28, 2002, in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Auto Club Speedway. After three seasons and one title (2000) in the Camping World Truck Series and one Xfinity season, Biffle started in the No. 16 for Roush Fenway Racing.
The native of Vancouver, Washington, qualified 29th and finished 13th in the first of six starts that season.
McMurray’s debut, 20 races later, is much memorable.
A native of Joplin, Missouri, McMurray had 21 truck starts and a season and a half of Xfinity starts with no wins when Chip Ganassi called. On Sept. 29, Sterling Marlin suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck in a crash at Kansas Speedway. The injury forced Marlin from Ganassi’s No. 40 for the rest of the season.
McMurray, then 26, stepped into the car the next week at Talladega Superspeedway, where he would start fifth and finish 26th, a lap down.
McMurray would start fifth again a week later at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the UAW-GM Quality 500. He would lead three times that night for 96 laps. He assumed the lead for the last time with 31 laps to go en route to his first Sprint Cup victory.
Both Biffle and McMurray would be full-time rookies in 2003, with Biffle driving the No. 16 for Roush and McMurray the No. 42 for Ganassi. Since that season, only Biffle has failed to make a start, when he did not qualify for the third race of the 2002 season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“If I wouldn’t have missed the Las Vegas race I would have won Rookie of the Year, except he did,” Biffle said last month at the unveiling of his car for the Southern 500.
Since 2002, Biffle has driven only for Roush, earning 19 victories (the first coming in the 2004 Pepsi 400) 92 top fives and 175 top 10s. Biffle will be the second driver to make his 500th Cup start at Roush. Mark Martin made his in March 2002.
Biffle hasn’t won since the spring Michigan race in 2013.
McMurray, now 40, is in his second stint with Chip Ganassi Racing after competing with Biffle at Roush from 2006 – 2009. The two remain good friends from their days as teammates, often vacationing together and sharing plane rides to races.
“More of a friendship of any other driver, a colleague at work that you respect their talent and ability,” Biffle said. “A lot of times friendships kind of stay intact … you can usually get over, ‘Hey I cut you off or you ran into you on accident.’ Typically you can put those behind you. We haven’t had too many of those.’’
While McMurray has only seven wins on his record – and none since 2013 – his victories tend to come on NASCAR’s biggest stages.
Nicknamed the “Big Game Hunter” by Ganassi, McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and fall Charlotte race in 2010. His second Cup win was the 2007 Pepsi 400. He also has two wins at Talladega (2009, 2013). His last trip to victory lane was the 2014 All-Star Race.
Heading into Saturday’s race, McMurray holds the final provisional spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and is 22 points ahead of Ryan Newman.
Biffle needs to win in order to qualify for the Chase.