Sunday Darlington Notebook

Jamie McMurray: In terms of thrills for a driver, nothing tops Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Want a quick thrill?

Just jump in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car with new tires and run a qualifying lap at Darlington Raceway.

That, says Jamie McMurray, is one of the most thrilling feelings Cup drivers experience anywhere.

"To me, Turn 2 at Darlington is one of the fastest corners in racing," said McMurray, who entered Sunday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 on the cusp of making the playoffs. "When you get wide open, and you see the guy enter Turn 1 and drive up to the wall and kind of start to pull it back off the wall...

"When you see 'em pull the car back off the wall, and you're trying to get your left front (tire) on the apron, that's about as fast a sensation of speed as we have in our sport. It's bouncing, you can't see, and you're not sure the tires are going to stick."

Changes to the car since McMurray's 2002 debut, as well as a new asphalt surface at the Lady in Black, have taken some of the anxiety out of a high-speed lap at Darlington-but not much.

"They've done a good job of controlling the splitter height," McMurray said. "The car's a little more under control than what it was in the past, when we had to run big springs here, and when you went through the bumps, the valance would vary so much...

"But here, on new tires, is about as fun a lap as you can run in a car. The sensation here is big."


Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a sponsorship he can bank on for the next few years.

On Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark announced a multiyear renewal of Fifth Third Bank's sponsorship of Stenhouse's No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed, though Newmark indicated the number of races with Fifth Third on the hood would increase.

Stenhouse picked up his first career victory earlier this season at Talladega and followed that up with a second win at Daytona, thereby assuring his place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff. For both his victories, Stenhouse sported Fifth Third colors on his car.

"It's cool to get our first win together," said Stenhouse, who also is carrying the Fifth Third livery on throwback weekend at Darlington. "Theirs as a company and my first Cup win. It's been a great partnership throughout my Cup career. Looking forward to many more years with them.

"They help me a lot off the race track and obviously do so much for us on the track."

In addition to its partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, Fifth Third Bank is the Official Bank of Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500, and a partner with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the IndyCar series.


Given that Jimmie Johnson has once again endured his typical summer doldrums, there's not much buzz about a record eighth championship for the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

But Johnson is following a familiar pattern, one that was repeated during many of his seven championship seasons-win early, struggle in the summer months and triumph late. In fact, that's what happened last year, when Johnson won his record-tying seventh title.

"I wish we knew why summers are so hard on us," Johnson said. "Believe me, we sit down every winter and talk about how we can turn it around and avoid that summer slump. I think it shows how hard it is to stay on top. Most teams have lulls in a season, and we have been able to start well and end well. That's served us well over the years."

That, of course, is a colossal understatement. When the No. 48 team starts the playoff, the light goes on.

"There are probably seven or eight years that feel like this," Johnson said. "It's not just last year. We have some decent races in the summer, but more bad ones than good ones. If we look back at this summer, if I'm not leaking oil at Indy then I have a shot at winning and the conversation changes.

"At Bristol, we had a fantastic race going, and I got in the wall late in the race that took us out of an opportunity to win or finish in the top-three. But there are some moments where the conversation could have changed but haven't. But I know those final 10 races-at least nine of them-are amazing tracks for me. We always count on that."

--- NASCAR Wire Service ---