Jamie McMurray’s tears in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 did not just reflect his happiness, it was an expression of relief that his decision to rejoin Chip Ganassi was the right one.
Despite tremendous effort at Roush Fenway Racing over the last four seasons, McMurray never captured the magic he was searching for with that powerhouse. Often, he was eclipsed by Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth or Greg Biffle.
So, it was not surprising on Monday morning, as the magnitude of winning NASCAR’s biggest race of the year started to sink in, McMurray had just one concern.
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“I woke up this morning and first thing I was hoping was that Danica wasn’t going to be on the cover of the paper,” McMurray said. “I was hoping that my winning that Daytona 500 wasn’t going to be overshadowed for the race track issues or Dale Jr. finishing second. “I wanted the team to get their due.”
McMurray can relate to what his current team has endured. Like their driver, the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops team has been challenged of late — particularly in the last 400 days.
The majority of this crew was moved from Dale Earnhardt Inc., through the merger with Ganassi Racing. Many lived through the loss of Dale Earnhardt. Quite a few watched DEI disintegrate as long-term racing comrades were forced to the unemployment line — and then again as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing downsized to two teams at the start of 2009. Salaries were cut and their driver Martin Truex Jr. announced last summer that he was leaving for Michael Waltrip Racing.
As late as November, Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops was on the fence as when it came to accepting McMurray as the sponsor’s driver. McMurray’s win at Talladega on Nov. 1 certainly tipped the scales. And on Sunday night, Morris shared his own tears with McMurray in Victory Lane.
“I’m very thankful that Johnny Morris accepted me as a driver,” McMurray said. “I think after last night he felt like he made the right decision. There’s a lot that goes into making these packages work but I feel blessed that it all worked out.”
For team owner Chip Ganassi, there was never a doubt about bringing McMurray back into the fold.
“He was the best driver available and we had a relationship with him,” said Ganassi of the three years his organization fielded McMurray in the No. 42 car. “He’s a team player, he’s a good guy, He’s not looking for a piece of Hollywood. He’s a racer. He gets down to business. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team — the kind of guy that an owner looks for. He’s a hard working guy.”
Ganassi needed a driver that could be a team player both to fellow EGR driver Juan Pablo Montoya and to the No. 1 crew. McMurray brought electricity to the team that was missing last season. The chemistry was evident through three finishes of sixth or better that McMurray scored over Speedweeks.
Ganassi, who has won championships in CART, IndyCar and Grand Am Racing and now holds three of the most prestigious trophies in motorsports — the Rolex 24, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 — immediately noticed a change in the team upon McMurray’s arrival. “For him and Bono (crew chief Manion) to get along, that’s easy because they’re talking a lot,” Ganassi added. “But we have a whole new pit crew, a whole new group of guys that’s a big thing for a guy to want to be a part of, to want to be a part of a team. This business is so full of personalities and whatever that it’s nice to have a guy that wants to bring his team together.
“That’s a powerful thing and it’s powerful for me to have an ally like that wants to pull it together. He’s inclusionary. He’s open-minded he wants to bring people together. People who want to be a part of a team is way more powerful than people wanting to be on team. A group of all-stars doesn’t necessary make a team. You can have a group of people that aren’t all all-stars but can create great things. That’s what Jamie has been a part of since he came back to us.”
Although Manion won two Nationwide Series titles with Truex, the pair shared just one victory during their partnership in Cup. It wasn’t until the Martinsville race in October that the No. 1 team received its first new car — a collaborative effort between the Earnhardt and Ganassi factions. Truex took the same car to Phoenix the following week and earned the pole. The glimmers of hope offered Manion “encouragement for this year”.
“We’re full Earnhardt Ganassi Racing now,” Manion said. “Everything is uniformed now. We pit next to each in the Twins, and everything was uniform. The crews were uniform, the pitboxes, the toolboxes were uniform. It’s just like how Chip’s IndyCar teams operate – it’s two cars as one.
“This team knows how two win championships. We won two Nationwide championships. We know what points mean and we count points every single day. As strong as Juan was in the Chase last year, I can’t wait to start rolling and start collecting points.”
McMurray kicking off the season by winning the Daytona 500 is a great place to start — on top of the point standings.
“It’s so important when you start off with a new raceteam to start off on a positive note,” McMurray said. “It’s great for the team — with your relationship building with all these guys — to give a group of guys something that people work their whole lives for. That’s a great way to start a relationship.”