By JIM UTTER
CONCORD, N.C. – The start of Saturday night's Nextel Open was unfortunately also the end for several competitors.
Casey Mears, starting in the second position, lost his transmission on the restart, which initiated an 11-car wreck on the frontstretch before even one of the 30 scheduled laps were completed.
Mears, Scott Riggs, Brendan Gaughan, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Burton and Kerry Earnhardt also suffered severe damage to their cars. NASCAR red-flagged the race, allowing those competitors who were able to work on their cars.
Once the race got underway, Jamie McMurrray took control early led at the conclusion of the first 20-lap segment. He was leading on the next-to-last lap of the final 10-lap segment before his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Sterling Marlin powered by him on the final lap.
"Jamie was on fresher tires and he pinned me down into Turn 1. I got loose in the center," Marlin said. "I was kind of hoping those two (McMurray and Jeremy Mayfield) would get together.
"They got knocking and banging, so it was pretty wild.”
Mayfield, who also got a piece of the Lap 1 incident, managed to fight his way back into the battle for the transfer position.
He ended up finishing .350 seconds behind Marlin.
"We really wanted to get to the big race, but we just came up a little short,” Mayfield said. "Our car was really fast, and we had a lot of fun out there.
"I just wish (my car) could have finished one spot better, but we had a good run and we'll come back next week ready for the Coca-Cola 600.”
Marlin advanced to the Nextel All-Star Challenge, as did Ken Schrader, who advanced via a fan vote. Kerry Earnhardt actually received the most votes, but did not complete The Open, so Schrader was next in line.
"Someone was going to get voted in that way and we are grateful to get it,” Schrader said. "We sure appreciate the fan support. I know we had a lot of short track dirt fans who helped us across the country.”