DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jamie McMurray may be a former winner of two of NASCAR’s crown jewel races, but Darlington Raceway was none too kind to him during Friday’s practice rounds for the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Driving a gold No. 1 McDonald’s 50 Years of Big Mac Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reminiscent of the paint scheme Bill Elliott piloted in 1998, McMurray didn’t even make a full lap at speed before the motor expired in his car, forcing him to coast to a halt on the frontstretch during opening practice.
A visibly frustrated McMurray then quickly exited his car before heading back to the garage area, where his team installed the backup motor into the car in time for McMurray to return and make 13 laps during Happy Hour.
“I didn’t really have any indication that something was wrong on our McDonald’s Chevy,” noted McMurray of the engine failure. “Once it started vibrating it was really violent. Honestly, I didn’t even realize that the motor was blowing up at first; I thought it was something else. I didn’t see smoke initially when it started vibrating, but once oil started pouring out of it I caught on pretty quickly.
“The whole thing was really odd. I mean, I hadn’t even made a lap yet,” McMurray added. “I don’t know what happened. It’s just unfortunate.”
McMurray was a disappointing 31st-quick during final practice. His best Southern 500 finish came in 2010, when he was runner-up to Denny Hamlin.
– Interestingly enough, Hamlin holds a unique distinction going into Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington, having completed every lap of every Cup Series race he’s contested in his entire career at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.
That’s a perfect record of 4,415 laps completed over 12 Southern 500 attempts, including victories in 2010 and 2017 for the Chesterfield, Va., native.
Hamlin noted Friday how tough a task to accomplish that kind of record really is at Darlington.
“The Southern 500 … it’s such a long race. There’s a lot of attrition and things that can happen,” said Hamlin. “That’s what makes it hardest to repeat or win multiple times, let alone finish every lap like we have. … It’s just a test of your mental state, your physical state – I’ve fainted in the shower, I think twice, after this race just because you just get so dehydrated. I’ve run the Xfinity race on Saturday for the last handful of years, so it really drains you after the Southern 500.
“You’ve got to prepare for it. I’ll tell you, (Darlington) is definitely one of the most physical race tracks that I can think of.”
– Like McMurray, Erik Jones also fell victim to ‘The Lady in Black’ during Friday’s opening practice session, spinning out in his No. 20 Toyota with six minutes remaining in the 50-minute round.
Luckily, final practice was much cleaner for the Cup Series field, with no noteworthy incidents.
– This weekend, Hamlin is trying to join an exclusive fraternity of drivers who have won three or more Southern 500s during their careers.
Eight drivers – Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Herb Thomas, Buck Baker, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott – have been victorious in NASCAR’s most grueling race on at least three occasions.
Gordon leads the record books with a stunning six Southern 500 triumphs, including four in a row from 1995 through 1998.
– On the NASCAR Xfinity Series side, Tyler Reddick became one of the first drivers to earn a famed ‘Darlington Stripe’ on Friday when he drug the right-rear quarter panel of his No. 9 Chevrolet along the outside wall early in practice.
Reddick is carrying a red-and-gold Old Milwaukee Beer paint scheme this weekend on his machine, paying homage to the late Tim Richmond, who carried the same colors from 1983 to 1985 and who Reddick considers to be his racing hero.
“Everything I had heard about Tim Richmond, which a lot of it goes off of the stories I’ve heard from people close to me in the garage, is that he was a guy that when he came up was one of the most talented drivers out here and that he was always really good at trying to have fun and be himself,” said Reddick. “He was about having fun and enjoying himself and winning races at the same time. I feel like he sometimes just flew under the radar a little bit and I feel like there is a connection there to how I try to go about my life, which makes it that much more special to be running this throwback scheme to him in Darlington.”
– Friday’s schedule featured two rounds of practice for both the Cup Series and the Xfinity Series, but no qualifying for either division. Setting the fields for the two races this weekend will happen on Saturday.