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Minter: McMurray Has Been An Overlooked Wheel Man

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 26 2010

Jamie McMurray and team celebrate in Victory Lane at Indy. The guy knows how to win the big ones. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

A few random thoughts on a post-Brickyard Monday:

As Jamie McMurray lined up with the lead, although with only two fresh tires, in the closing laps of the Brickyard 400, I thought back to a conversation in the Nationwide Series garage at Charlotte some months back.

Several veteran crew chiefs were talking. The subject of Jamie McMurray’s Daytona 500 win came up. I thought the story might proceed along the lines of “nice guy wins the big race.”

Instead, I learned something about McMurray’s reputation among people that really know racing.

One veteran crew chief pointed out that when McMurray gets a sniff of the checkered flag, he gets up on the wheel as well as anyone in the garage. And nobody else there that day disagreed.

So it wasn’t too surprising that McMurray outran Kevin Harvick on the money run and gave his car owner the Indy victory that most figured would be delivered by McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who experienced heartbreak for the second year in a row.

McMurray, the guy few owners seemed to want this time last year when he was being released from Roush Fenway Racing to get that team down to NASCAR’s limit of four teams per owner, now has two major wins, three poles and runner-up finishes in three other major events – the Southern 500 at Darlington, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega.

What a shame it’ll be if he doesn’t make the Chase, and he may not as he has 151 points to make up and just six races to do it.

Even if he doesn’t make the Chase, he’s got the potential to stir things up this fall. If he and his Kevin Manion-led crew don’t have to worry about points, think about how potent they can be with freedom to gamble. After all, it was a two-tire gamble that paved the way for his Brickyard win.

The sight of so many empty seats at the Brickyard was stunning, but not necessarily surprising. Just as my home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, often suffers lingering effects from bad-weather races, Indy likely is still feeling the effects of the tire controversy of 2008 among other things.

And some of the magic of the race appears to have waned.  A friend from home who paid his way in to the inaugural Brickyard 400 16 years ago told me before the race that he turned down an offer of tickets and a hotel room to this year’s race.

Like many old-time fans, he believes the sport has changed too much in recent years to suit him. And now, apparently, more changes are coming soon.

Speaking of changes, NASCAR chairman Brian France indicated Sunday at Indianapolis that the schedule will have a new look next year.

Any time that kind of talk comes up, it make folks around Atlanta worry that the local track could lose a date.

NASCAR needs to tread carefully in this area. Taking away a race from one of the cornerstone Southern tracks could drive away even more of the hard-core crowd that the sport’s leaders seem to be trying to get to rejoin the fold.

While AMS packed them in last year for its Labor Day weekend night race, it has had difficulty filling the grandstands for its late-winter race date. But now that the season is well past halfway, how do those empty seats at Atlanta in March compare to those at places like Bristol or California or Indianapolis?

Maybe more tickets could be sold if that race were moved elsewhere. And maybe not, especially once the new wears off.

The situation brings to mind the old saying: “One in the hand is better than two in the bush.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 26 2010