NASCAR had previously used group qualifying only in the Nationwide Series but tried it Saturday instead of traditional single-car runs. The drivers were split into eight groups of five or six cars based on practice speeds from Friday, and NASCAR sent them onto the track five seconds apart.
The drivers had five minutes to post a fast lap.
It was immediately interesting as Victor Cruz Jr., driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, ran off course and into a barrier to stop the first group's session.
"Rookie mistake," he said.
There was no mistake for McMurray, who enjoyed watching the qualifying format as he waited for his turn to run.
"It was cool how people would bump each other off," he said.
When he went out in the final group, he was smooth and steady in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and didn't push too hard.
"I was like, 'I'm just going to go out and take what this car will give me and not push it to the very edge,'" he said. "I drove at about 95 percent."
McMurray teammate Juan Pablo Montoya qualified 13th.
Jacques Villeneuve, in the Phoenix Racing entry Kurt Busch drove to a third-place finish last year, qualified 22nd.
"It just wasn't quick enough," he said. "We improved the car overnight and I was discovering it and I just didn't drive aggressive enough on the first lap, so there was still a little bit of time, but at least my car was a lot better."
Danica Patrick, who has struggled to find speed all weekend and was expected to be strong Sunday, qualified a disappointing 31st.
"We picked up from practice. It was loose, especially in the faster part of the course," Patrick said. "But we improved from yesterday and the GoDaddy guys have worked really hard this weekend. Hopefully we have a good day on Sunday."