McMurray happy to be back in Ganassi camp
As Juan Pablo Montoya charged to the front at Bristol Motor Speedway last April, Jamie McMurray moved up the track to block his advance.
Montoya didn’t like it, and let him know it.
"He dumped me," McMurray said. "We were pretty good friends until Bristol."
"He had old tires and I had new tires and he had his car in my line and I got there and I ran out of patience," Montoya said. "I tried to talk to him afterward and he was mad and didn’t want to talk to me, and I was OK with it, you’re not here to make friends."
The incident wouldn’t be a big deal and would be long forgotten if not for one thing: McMurray and Montoya are now teammates at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
For Montoya, who made the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year, that’s a good thing.
"In Juan’s case, it was good Ganassi hired me, because the Chase would have been hell (for him)," McMurray says.
The two teammates have put the incident behind them and are now good friends. They will race together for Ganassi in the Rolex 24 at Daytona next week and then head back to Daytona the following week as NASCAR teammates.
McMurray now calls Montoya "a really good teammate," while Montoya says, "We have a really good relationship. We understand each other."
Their relationship and ability to work together will be crucial to the Earnhardt Ganassi team as Montoya attempts to return to the Chase and make another push for the Cup championship and McMurray tries to rebound from a disappointing four years at Roush Fenway Racing.
McMurray is in an odd situation. He is returning to the organization he started his Cup career with, and to a team he left for what he thought was going to be a better opportunity.
What he discovered is that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
McMurray won his first Cup race in just his second career start with Ganassi and then nearly made the Chase in 2004 and ‘05. In three full seasons with Ganassi, he finished 13th, 11th and 12th in points.
Big things were expected when he jumped to Roush in 2006. Instead, he struggled, going from a rising star to a classic underachiever.
Though he won two races for Roush at Daytona and Talladega, he finished 25th, 17th, 16th and 22nd in points.
He admits his performance there was highly disappointing.
"I look at my time at Roush and certainly what is expected out of that organization is very high,” he says. “Our sport is about making the Chase and winning races, and if you have a season when you don’t make the Chase, it’s a disappointment. That’s just the way it is.
"My four years at Roush, I didn’t make the Chase and I came so close here to be able to make it, I thought going there, it would be a sure thing. I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought we would make it at least two of the four years I was there, and we never even came close.”
McMurray says he got overwhelmed being part of NASCAR’s biggest multi-car team. Though he had four teammates to rely on, that was both a blessing and a curse.
"The hard part about having four other teammates ... there is so much information to go through, and when you do the setups of the cars you can’t take just what you want from the setups, it’s a package deal," he said. "And it’s overwhelming when you have that much information to look at. And when things aren’t going well, it’s hard not to nitpick through it and take the little bit that you think would be good and try to apply it. Sometimes it’s just too much.”
McMurray believes he will perform better with a two-car team where he won’t be as overwhelmed with information and help.
"If things are going well, it would be easier to have a smaller amount of information,” he says. “For years we talked about how, when Hendrick was the first to have four cars or Roush, that it would be great to have all that, but sometimes it’s not always better to have that much information."
For McMurray, returning to Ganassi is like coming home after a long absence. He says he feels more comfortable with team owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates than the always-intense Jack Roush.
“It’s a different environment,” he says. “Certainly Chip and Felix, their personalities are closer to mine than what Jack’s was. ... The environment at Ganassi probably fits my personality a little bit better."
After leaving the team, McMurray continued to keep in touch with Ganassi, often sending him messages congratulating him on a victory in NASCAR or with his IndyCar teams. He says their long-time friendship opened the door for him to return.
“I left on good terms,” McMurray says. “I remember sitting in Chip’s office and telling him the opportunities that were in front of me and him telling me, 'I can’t offer you the same things, so you probably need to go do that.'
"Honestly, when I left, my relationship with Chip and Felix grew stronger. I kept that friendship, and you just never know."
Ganassi says he had no reservations about rehiring McMurray to replace Martin Truex Jr., who left after last season for Michael Waltrip Racing. His familiarity and success with McMurray made the decision easy.
"In this business, there are so many variables, and you are looking to push variables off the plate. And with Jamie, we do that," Ganassi said. "We know each other and we have always remained friends. It really wasn’t a decision like Jamie or 'X.' We knew what a proven commodity he was."
Ganassi says he is not concerned about McMurray’s lackluster performance at Roush.
"You can certainly say that he didn’t achieve the level of performance that he did here," Ganassi said. "It's easy to look from 10,000 feet and say he didn’t have this and he didn’t have that, because you don’t know unless you are in there and involved.
"I think the obvious thing was, for whatever reason, they weren’t getting the best out of him."
McMurray and his new teammate believe that will change in more familiar surroundings.
"I think he will be fine," Montoya says. "I think we have got great race cars and I think he will appreciate the smaller team, and I think it will pay off."