Is this the year for McMurray?

Jamie McMurray. (Getty Images)

Jamie McMurray. (Getty Images)

SPARTA, Ky. – Jamie McMurray would like nothing better than to shed an unwelcome distinction, and the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season appears to be unfolding in a way that will help him do so.

Though McMurray has driven full-time in the series since 2003, he has never qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the playoff system introduced in 2004. Through 17 races this season, McMurray is sixth in the standings—and the highest-rated driver without a victory so far.

If fewer than 16 different drivers win races this season (11 drivers have victories thus far), McMurray is in good position to make the Chase on points. From McMurray’s point of view, it helped that last week’s restrictor-plate race at Daytona produced a duplicate winner (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and not an unexpected one.

It also helped that McMurray avoided catastrophe and finished 11th and 15th, respectively, in the first two plate races of the season, at Talladega and Daytona.

“I remember heading into to the first Talladega race, knowing that was a big weekend for a guy who hadn’t won a race because you could have someone new win, and you could also have a 40th-place finish, which makes a big swing in the points,” McMurray said. “So, making it through there was big for us, and then making it through last weekend (at Daytona) was the same thing. Not having a new winner and then not having a horrible finish. We didn’t really lose that many points to the guys that we’re racing.

“So I only look at maybe Watkins Glen (a road course race) as being somewhat of a wild card where you’d have a unique winner. And so for us, it’s just about doing the same thing and getting the best finish we can.”

The driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has an average finish of 13.2 this season. If he can maintain that pace for the next nine races, a first-time berth in the Chase could well be in his future.

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