McMurray's resurgence continues in Indy
Jamie McMurray didn’t expect to kiss the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday
But that’s the type of season it has been for the affable Missourian.
“It’s been an unbelievable year,” McMurray said in Victory Lane.
This time last year, he wasn’t even sure what his future held. McMurray wasn’t locked into Chip Ganassi Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t have a sponsor for the No. 1 Chevrolet. Then the pieces came together. Although hesitant at first, Bass Pro Shop re-signed in October. McDonald’s joined the party after the first of the year.
When he won the Daytona 500 in February, McMurray cried. He didn’t want to sound cliché but admitted the experience “was like a dream come true.” McMurray was too humble to feel vindication, instead he was grateful to Ganassi, Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris and the other sponsors that offered a second chance to the 34-year-old driver.
But Daytona was just the first chapter for McMurray. He won the first of three poles so far the following week at Fontana. He scored second-place finishes at Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte.
And after an off week, the Sprint Cup tour entered Indianapolis Motor Speedway — the second most-prestigious race on the schedule. The spotlight was on Chip Ganassi and McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. Ganassi was attempting to become the first owner to win both the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis in the same year. Montoya had aspirations of being the only driver to win both prestigious events.
If that bothered McMurray, he never showed it. On Friday night, McMurray went sleepless. He played his qualifying lap in his head repeatedly. When he posted the fourth fastest speed in time trials, he felt sick. Wife Christy, who has been his rock through the last year, told McMurray, “Heck with the pole, win the race.”
The team made changes to the car in practice on Saturday. They continued to review the notes from Montoya’s tire test. Crew chief Bono Manion kept drilling into McMurray’s head that passing would be virtually impossible.
Before the race, McMurray said Ganassi offered him the last bit of inspiration.
“Chip said to me right before I got into the car, ‘Let’s go out and do this thing,’” McMurray recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll give you everything I got.’ He said, ‘I know, that’s why I hired you. I believe in you. You go out and do your best — that will be enough.’”
Although McMurray didn’t feel that he had a dominant car, he had faith that the team could execute a perfect race.
“We didn’t make any mistakes,” McMurray said.
Montoya initially performed as expected. He led 86 of the first 139 laps when caution was called for debris. McMurray, whose team opted for two tires, took the lead from the pit stops on Lap 140 — the latest any driver has moved to the point for the first time and won the race. The No. 42 team opted for a four-tire pitstop that mired Montoya in traffic and made the car uncontrollable to drive. Three laps later, the race favorite was in the Turn 4 wall.
“I don’t know what happened,” Montoya said on the radio. “I just lost it I guess.”
Two laps prior to the accident, Kevin Harvick assumed the lead. He opted for the inside lane after the caution and McMurray easily powered by him on the restart and extended his lead to 1.391-seconds at the finish.
As McMurray ignited his burnout, Ganassi reveled in his accomplishment.
“It’s pretty special,” Ganassi said. “My heart goes out to Juan. He had a great day, too. This is a big, big day for our team. I’m glad it happened here in Indianapolis. It’s incredible. I need oxygen.”
McMurray appeared subdued in his postrace interviews. Having experienced the extreme lows of the sport, McMurray felt for Montoya’s troubles and tempered his celebration to a degree. But it was indeed the difficult times that makes his good fortune resonate now.
“We’re just a great team right now,” McMurray said. “Honestly, when Juan was leading and I was in second, I’m a big believer in fate, and I thought this was how it was meant to be. I won Daytona, Dario won the 500 and I thought Juan was going to win this one. I’m just shocked that I won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year.
“Every driver is different, but for me what drives me is having somebody behind you. It’s been really good for both Chip and I to experience this together because we were together when things weren’t great and we kind of built this together along with the No. 1 team to where it is ... I think that me leaving was good for me. I know by leaving it’s made me appreciate the situation I’m in.”
Move of the race
Chip Ganassi insisted there were no team orders during the final stop of the Brickyard 400 when the No. 1 team opted for two tires and the No. 42 chose to put on four tires.
Ganassi called the move a split strategy and he credited Montoya and Co. for assisting McMurray’s team with its win. Ganassi said the organization discussed what the plan would be with 10 laps remaining in the race — what does history show? four tires or two tires? Ganassi admitted the company was in “an enviable position of running” first and second.
“A lot of times when you're running like that, you can do a split strategy so you have both sort of angles covered,” Ganassi said. “I was behind the pit stand. Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops owner) brought up to me, ‘Maybe we ought to think about two (tires).’ The 42 was going for four. I looked at Bono (Manion, crew chief). I said, ‘Do you think we should do the split strategy here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, let's go for two.’
“That was the call. The only reason we could do that is because we knew the 42 was going for four. As a team, we had sort of both strategies covered there, I guess. That's the great thing about having a teammate.”
Rick Hendrick’s reasoning on growing a beard:
“(Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and I had a bet that I wouldn’t do it so that’s why I had to do it. He said I didn’t have a hair on my butt if I didn’t come to Indy with a beard after I had been on vacation, so I’m going down here to turn my hat around backwards and prove him wrong. I’ve never had you guys all want to take my picture before. You think I look grubby and rough and mean?”
Say what (Part II)?
Felix Sabates on picking up Jamie McMurray in the offseason:
“The guy that’s got to feel like an (idiot) tonight has to be Jack Roush. He’s the one that let him go.”