CONCORD, N.C. — Jamie McMurray picked up his third big Sprint Cup victory in his comeback season, beating all the championship contenders Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McMurray, winner of the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 this year, passed Kyle Busch on a restart with 21 laps to go to cruise to the victory in his Chevrolet. It came eight years after his first career victory, which came at Charlotte, in his second event with Chip Ganassi Racing.
McMurray is not eligible for the Chase for the Championship but was better than all the title contenders to become the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race at Charlotte since the format began in 2004.
Busch led a race-high 218 laps but had to settle for second after McMurray easily passed him on the restart. Busch had to hang on for his spot when four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson charged hard over the closing laps.
"Nobody can put it in perspective for me; it's very, very disappointing," said Busch, who was apoplectic on his radio about the debris caution that wiped out his lead. He ranted about the restart that allowed McMurray to move ahead of him and refused to accept that second place was a decent day.
Johnson, who spun early and dropped to 37th, completed an improbable comeback.
Denny Hamlin was fourth and lost more ground to Johnson in the Chase race.
With five races remaining, Johnson holds a 41-point lead over Hamlin. They go next to Martinsville Speedway, where Johnson and Hamlin have combined to win the past eight races.
Greg Biffle and Roush-Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth finished fifth and sixth, and Joey Logano was seventh. Kevin Harvick was eighth and maintained the third spot in the standings but dropped 77 points behind Johnson.
Zephyrhills native David Reutimann and David Ragan rounded out the top 10.
On Lap 309, a caution came out for debris in Turn 1. The top-five cars stayed out while the rest of the lead-lap cars elected to pit for new tires.
On the restart on Lap 314, Busch led, followed by McMurray, Johnson, Hamlin, Biffle, Harvick, Logano, Regan Smith, Reutimann and Kenseth.
Before the cars made it through Turn 2, McMurray passed Busch to claim the lead for the third time in the race.
Going greener: NASCAR will move from unleaded fuel to an ethanol blend in all three of its national series beginning next season. NASCAR chairman Brian France touted the switch to Sunoco Green E15 as another step by the auto racing series toward environment-friendly practices.
"This is the most visible thing that we can do to let our partners and our fans know that NASCAR is taking a slow, steady march as an industry," France said.
The E15 blend is a mixture of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. It is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel, and the ethanol portion is produced from renewable resources that Sunoco will get from the Midwest. The blend will replace Sunoco 260 GTX.
Dueling the NFL: Track owner Bruton Smith says NASCAR should push start times for Sunday races back an hour to 2 p.m. to better compete against the NFL. "If people want to tune in and watch football — and every game seems to be about the same — by 2 o'clock maybe they're tired of it and then they'll come over and watch a real sport," he said.