Home » NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

McMurray Finally Gets His Due

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 13 2015
The field of 16 drivers who will compete for the 2015 Sprint Cup Championship was finalized Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Among them is first-time Chaser Jamie McMurray. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tom Copeland)

The field of 16 drivers who will compete for the 2015 Sprint Cup Championship was finalized Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Among them is first-time Chaser Jamie McMurray. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tom Copeland)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

As Jamie McMurray was pulling off his helmet and climbing out of his car in Victory Lane after winning at Charlotte in 2002 in just his second Sprint Cup start, NASCAR fans and competitors had to be thinking they were watching a star being born.

Young, good looking, contagious charm and with obvious race-winning talent, McMurray – which one national racing magazine called “Jamie Who?” in a headline that fall – left Charlotte Motor Speedway that night atop racing’s next-big-thing list.

And McMurray has had his moments in Chip Ganassi’s race cars. Just not championship-threatening moments. Not the kind of moments that so many expected of him 13 years ago.

Which is probably why the 39-year-old native of Joplin, Mo. reacted more with “whew” than “wow” after he drove his way into his first-ever Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

“I’m super relieved,” McMurray, who merely needed to start the race to secure that first berth, said after his 13th-place finish.

McMurray has won seven races in his career. He was rookie of the year in his first full season – 2003. In 2010, he won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. So, the career has been decent.

Not so for the playoffs. Not only has he been shut out, he’s been heartbroken in pursuit of the Chase. And at Richmond in Septembers past in particular, McMurray has been gutted.

“I’ve been the guy on the outside, trying to fight my way in, and also been in this (battle) a couple times and been knocked out at Richmond,” he said. “It’s awesome. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

The man who gave McMurray his big break in 2002 – putting him into a Cup car at the fall Talladega race after Sterling Marlin suffered a broken neck at Kansas – knows all about the Richmond blues his driver has suffered in the past.

“I know with Jamie in the past,” Ganassi said, “when they took 10 (drivers into the Chase), I could be wrong on these numbers, seems when they took 10, we were 11th.  When they took 12, we were 13th.  When they took 16, we were 17th or something.  So this was a little sweeter to get him punched in there pretty solid.”

Ganassi has stood by McMurray through some pretty lean times. Perhaps because of the potential he sees, most probably because of the hard work he witnesses – McMurray made big news a couple years back when it leaked out that he owned his own shock dyno.

On Saturday night, Ganassi was still standing there.

“Obviously Jamie has had some big wins, but we haven’t had the consistent speed that you need I think to win at any time,” Ganassi, who a couple of weeks ago had one of his IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon, crowned champion in that series, said. “I think we can run well at any track, but I don’t think we’re in a position to win right yet at any track.

“We have to work on that.  We’ve obviously won some big races, but we need to do a little better job of that.  We need to work a little harder, dig a little deeper.

“For Jamie himself, I couldn’t be more pleased.  I don’t think there’s anybody in the Chase that is more deserving of being there, that has worked so tirelessly over the years, been under the limelight, has had a couple disappointments along the way at times.”

As opposed to Richmond’s past, McMurray spent the last week knowing that it would take an 11th-hour Chicxulub-size comet hit to keep him out of the playoffs this time.

“A much different night, laid‑back weekend,” he said. “I brought my family with me this weekend so we could all enjoy it together.  My little girl had a fever when we got here; my little boy has a fever now.  It’s been raining with my wife and two kids in a bus. It’s been a party.”

Dixon staged one of the biggest comeback championships in recent IndyCar history this year. He won the season finale at the Sonoma road course, overcame a 47-point deficit and tied Juan Pablo Montoya – a former Cup driver for Ganassi – in points and was awarded the big trophy by way of the tied-breaker as he had more race wins.

Ganassi was asked if McMurray was capable of something similar.

“Yeah,” he said, “I mean, obviously it’s what we prepare for.  It’s what we prepare to do.  Obviously we haven’t done it in the past.  I mean, you put all your ingredients into your team each year and you do the best job you can with what you have to work with, the resources you have.

“You know, I think we can give it a shot here.  I think we can drill ourselves deep into it.  The final four, looks like it might be one team the way I’m looking at it lately after the last couple of races.  I noticed for a while we were running first and second in class, but I think we were fifth and sixth.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I certainly think we can drill deep into it.  We’ll have to see from there.  We’ll need a little bit of luck from there.”

If that luck does appear, those who forecast stardom for McMurray over a dozen seasons ago will be redeemed as well.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 13 2015
No Comment

Comments are closed.