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Monday, July 26, 2010

McMurray and Ganassi team's rise in 2010 is truly miraculous

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jamie McMurray celebrates his Brickyard 400 victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He became the third driver to win the Brickyard and the Daytona 500 in the same season.

If I told you a year ago that Jamie McMurray would win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010, you would have laughed in my face.

Facing a certain cut from the Roush Fenway stable and with no future ride in sight, he was a man without a home.

And while his 2010 hasn’t exactly been consistent, one thing is for sure: When the stakes are high, he comes up big – this time mostly due to a great call by his crew chief for 2 tires instead of 4.

After his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya dominated early in the race Sunday, and then proceeded to once again have terrible luck, McMurray pounced on the opportunity and went on to claim yet another huge victory. While he is 16th in points still and has only a small shot at even making the Chase, he has already earned $4,248,620 in 2010, more than any other driver in the series.

That’s because when the prestige of the race and the paycheck is big, the #1 car always seems to rise to the top. Considering the terrible run McMurray had for so many years in his Roush ride, it’s absolutely amazing that the story is playing out as it has.

“It is unbelievable and the greatest racing year of my life,” McMurray said after the win Sunday. “Honestly, I’m in shock right now.”

Even on an organizational level, this is pretty amazing. Team owner Chip Ganassi has had a career year. On Sunday, he became the first team owner in history to win the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.

A year ago, the state of this #1 team last year wasn’t much better than McMurray’s at the time. Martin Truex Jr. was on his way out and the results weren’t there on a regular basis.

Montoya made the Chase, but the #1 car was almost guaranteed to run mid-pack week in and week out. If you would have told me in 2009 that the #1 car would go on to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in 2010, I would have laughed in your face.

But as it happens so often in racing, things change.

Just as things have gone sour for some other teams this year, it’s looking up for Ganassi and this #1 team this year. If they can get some consistency and put on a bunch of good runs in the next month, they could surge into the Chase and try to make a run at something even greater. Ganassi had some he heard the doubters last year pronouncing his team as dead, but didn’t listen to them.

“We had to pull our wings in a bit and make some changes, take it a little bit on the chin, which we did. But we always knew we'd be racing,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the media had us written off that we were bye bye. Everybody was ready to kiss us off. We knew that wasn't the case.”

You can tell by the way he talks that McMurray truly enjoys working with his team, something that wasn’t always the case at Roush.

“I’m lucky and privileged to be in this business. I am honored to work with the people I work with. That is all I can tell you,” he said, beaming with pride. “I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. You wouldn’t dare dream this, you wouldn’t dare to dream this kind of year. That is the kind of year it has been.”

But even if they don’t make the Chase, Ganassi, McMurray and the entire team have accomplished so much already they probably won’t stop smiling until Christmas.

That Sabates wit returns
The best line of the post-race press conference came from team co-owner Felix Sabates, who said, regarding the Cat in the Hat’s decision to release McMurray: “The guy that got to feel like an idiot tonight has to be Jack Roush. He's the one that let him go.”

You gotta love honesty, and Felix is never short on that trait.

Runner-up quote of the day also comes from Sabates, who said of Ganassi: “If you cut his veins, motor oil would come.”

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