By Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor
(NASCAR)—Joplin NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray had one of his best years ever although the final standings don’t indicate how strong it was. And he plans to keep rolling for a few more years, at least.
Because of the playoff system, McMurray is listed in an eleventh place tie with Austin Dillon in the final standings. The playoff system, however, distorts how good McMurray was in 2017.
Dillon won a race. McMurray didn’t. Both had three top-five finishes. But McMurray was in the top ten seventeen times; Dillon only four times. Dillon’s average starting position was 19.1. McMuray’s was 10.1. Dillon’s average finish was 18.6, four behind McMurray. McMurray finished 26 races on the same lap as the winner. Dillon did it 21 times.
But under the playoff system, they tied for 11th with McMurray ranked 12th because Dillon won a race and McMurray didn’t.
However, McMurray had more top tens than four drivers who finished above him at the end. Six of those who finished ahead of him in the standings had worse starting positions and three had worse average finishing positions. He ran almost three-quarters of his laps this year in the top fifteen; only seven drivers did better than that. And eighty-six percent of his laps were on the same lap as the race leader. Again, only seven drivers did better.
So, if NASCAR wasn’t giving points for stage racing and didn’t have the playoffs and instead recognized standings based on season-long points accumulation, where would McMurray have finished this year:
That would have been a career best.
As it was, 2017 was McMurray’s best season since 2004 when he was eleventh but had worse starting and finishing positions.
It’s no surprise that 2017 has left him feeling invigorated for the future. He will be the third oldest fulltime driver in the Cup series next year when he turns 42 (only Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick will be older at 43). The youth movement is moving in strongly with McMurray one of only five drivers who will be 40 or older next year, one of only ten will turn 37 or older.
He said at the NASCAR awards blow-out in Las Vegas last month that he knows his days are numbered, but his goal is to race for another four years “maybe a little bit more.”
He’s made the playoffs three times in a row, made it to the second round this year for the first time. He had what is arguably his best season ever, certainly one of the top two. Why shouldn’t he feel bullish on his future?
The first chapter of it will be written at Daytona on February 18. He won the Daytona 500 in 2010.
(Photo credit: NASCAR)