Eight years and three days ago, Jamie McMurray broke into the consciousness of American stock car fans.
Article continues below ...
This season, McMurray resurrected his career.
Certainly before Speedweeks this year, no one predicted McMurray would win the Daytona 500.
The Brickyard 400? Not a chance.
And here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where in 2002 a 26-year-old unknown from Joplin, Mo., won his first Cup race while substituting for the injured Sterling Marlin, McMurray was victorious again.
But the celebration on Saturday night was a complete departure from the last time McMurray visited Charlotte’s Victory Lane.
“When I won here in 2002 — you’re in a situation where I don’t know that there’s any race car driver (that) wants someone else to get in their car and win, much less a kid that’s never won on the Truck or the Nationwide Series, or the Busch Series at the time. So I knew that that was hard on Sterling. I knew that, as soon as I get in Victory Lane, I remember telling myself you need to be very gracious and be respectful to Sterling, because this is hard for him. He’s at home with a broken neck.
"So you win with another team, it’s not really your team. Tonight is completely different. I talked with (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) about this earlier today, about where his Cup organization was a year ago, and where it is right now and the success that we’ve had. And so, it’s different circumstances. I feel this is my team and it’s a team that has been put together over the past 11 months, 12 months, and it’s mine. And it’s a completely different feeling."
In 2006, McMurray left Ganassi Racing for what is now Roush Fenway Racing. What was heralded as a career move for McMurray evolved into a flop. McMurray continued a 166-race drought between his first win and his second victory — nearly five years later — in the July Daytona race.
No matter what personnel combination the company tried, McMurray never developed the necessary chemistry to succeed. Throughout three years, McMurray posted two wins, 11 top fives and led 424 laps. His career-best finish with Roush was 16th in the standings.
While he endured disappointment with Roush, at the end of the three-year run McMurray learned valuable life lessons. He married and renewed his relationship with his father at the urging of his wife, Christy. While McMurray initially had no idea where he would drive in 2010, he returned to Chip Ganassi — where his Cup career started.
Though the name had changed — to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing — McMurray’s friendship with Chip Ganassi picked right back up. He was aligned with crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion and the pair worked diligently to build a relationship. Although Bass Pro Shops begrudgingly came on board, McMurray has since become close to company owner Johnny Morris. McDonald’s followed suit and when the “Golden Arches” are on the No. 1 Chevrolet, the name “Big Mac” is printed over the driver’s door.
The chemistry that had eluded the driver during the last four years at Roush began to cement at EGR midway through the year. Although the team still needs to work on its consistency, with five races remaining in this season, McMurray’s three wins top his stats from Roush. He’s also collected nine top-five finishes and led 342 laps.
“Obviously I’ve grown up a lot in the last eight years,” McMurray said. “I’m married and expecting a child. My life has changed a lot. I feel like I’m a lot smarter of a racer and I try to put myself in a better position probably than what I did back then.
“You don’t realize how much you don’t know, and eight or 10 years goes by and you realize what you didn’t know then and how much more you know now and how much more you’re going to know in 10 years from now. Certainly, (I’m) quite a bit different as a person and a lot different place in my life. And I think probably more than anything is I’m appreciative of the sponsors and of the opportunities that I have right now versus 2002.”
While McMurray would not elaborate on his future with EGR, a multiyear package is in the works that includes current sponsors Bass Pro Shops and McDonald’s. The delay is in the details.
And then there were three …
Here’s what the three remaining Chase candidates concluded on Saturday.
Denny Hamlin: It ain’t over. (via Twitter)
Kevin Harvick: I think for us it was damage control. For me coming here, I know we probably had lot better race car than eighth place tonight. For me, this is just a struggle. I struggle getting the feel that I want. To come out of here with an eighth feels like a victory.
Jimmie Johnson: "It was really a wash this weekend. We got one more race behind us. That’s great. We’ll just keep plugging along and see what happens after Talladega. I really feel like after Talladega we can then be in a position to protect or know if we have to play catchup at that point.
This Bud’s for Yeley
Kasey Kahne retired on Lap 125 when his brakes failed and left the track complaining of illness, according to a team spokesperson.
Luckily, J.J. Yeley was still in the garage after the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing team had opted to park after 73 laps with an ignition problem. As the team was gathered in the garage for engine tea down, an unidentified crewman from Richard Petty Motorsports approached Yeley.
“I was about ready to leave when this guy came over and said, ‘Don’t leave, we might need a driver,’ Yeley said. “What I understand is Kasey wasn’t feeling well after the accident. I don’t think a lot of people would have fit in Kasey’s car. Obviously, the circumstances weren’t ideal but they have sponsors to take care of and were hoping to stay in the top 20 in points.”
While the No. 9 team dropped from 19th to 21st in the points standings, Yeley gained six additional points for the team after returning to the track.
Jamie McMurray’s 27th-place starting position is the furthest back in the field a victor has come in the Bank of America 500.
Denny Hamlin led his first lap of the Chase Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Despite winning the most races in the regular season, Hamlin was in his fifth Chase race before leading a lap.
Under the old points system, Kevin Harvick would be enjoying a 249-point lead over Jimmie Johnson.
Regan Smith posted his second consecutive top-15 finish. Next season, he will compete with equipment shared through a technical alliance Richard Childress Racing.
The next generation
Brandon McReynolds will make his Nationwide Series debut at Gateway International Raceway next weekend.
McReynolds, 19, will race the No. 42 Dodge for Eddie Smith. Parker Kligerman was originally scheduled to drive the car but will shake down the No. 22 Dodge for his teammate, and series points leader Brad Keselowski, who is commuting to St. Louis from the Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
McReynolds ran four ARCA races this season. His career-high finish of 10th came at Pocono Raceway in the Eddie Sharp Toyota.
When Kyle Busch was asked why he lost: “Looked like he was faster than me,” said Busch. “He beat us.”