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Sunday, October 17, 2010

8 years later, Jamie McMurray finally has become a contender

Eight years ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jamie McMurray ran the second race of his Winston Cup career. Filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin and driving the #40 Coors Light car, he ended up in Victory Lane.

Since then, the road has been bumpy for McMurray. Other than that win, his first stint at Ganassi’s team didn’t work out so well. So he headed for greener pastures at Roush Racing, or so he thought. He never really took off there, and in four years he only won a couple races before being forced out due to NASCAR’s new four-team rule.

So here he is in 2001 … back home at Ganassi: And my oh my, things have changed.

It’s not all roses, as he did miss the Chase, but let’s look at the highlights.
-- He won the Daytona 500
-- He won the Brickyard 400
-- These big paydays, and other solid runs, make him one of the highest-earning drivers in NASCAR in 2010.
-- On Saturday night at Charlotte, he outran great drivers like Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson en route to his second career Charlotte win.

Between all that, and the regular grin on his face, I’m thinking he’s glad he came back to his former team for the 2010 season.
This time at Charlotte, under much different circumstances, Jamie got to celebrate properly.

“When I won here in 2002, you're in a situation where I don't know that there's any race car driver wants someone else to get in their car and win, much less a kid that's never won. 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.”

This time, the team is all his, and he couldn’t say enough about how stellar their 2010 performance has been.

“Tonight is completely different, because you know … 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.”

As I said before, it hasn’t been an easy road for McMurray, who only now – 8 years into his career – is started to act like anything close to a contender. With those struggles in mind, after the race McMurray gave credit to his faith and prayers, which he credits in part for his resurgence.

“I just wanted it to be understood that after the season that I had, or the last four years I had, I found the power of prayer and that it's something that I really believe in. And when I got to victory lane in Daytona that's what I was thinking about. You know, I was crying, obviously because I was happy, but also because you feel like a prayer has been answered,” McMurray said Saturday night.
“And so that is, as a very powerful thing, and it's obviously very emotional. Tthat's a very selfish thing to ask for. Certainly it's not the first thing that I pray about every day. But everyone wants to be successful and you want to do well in life, so when you feel like that's been answered, it's emotional.

He said faith was on this mind as the race drew to a close.
“I thought about it the last eight or ten laps. I was like, you know, if I win this race, Lord, if you don't throw a caution, is what I said, and I win this race, I'm going to explain to people my feelings and why I felt that way,” McMurray said.

“I think that's important. I watch other professional athletes, whether it's bull riders or basketball players or motorcycle riders, you hear them get out and you hear them thank God and talk about the power of prayer, and I just think that that's important for people to understand, and understand why my feelings were the way they were.”

Beyond his racing career, McMurray said he has grown up a lot personally over the past 8 years.

“I'm married and expecting a child. My life has changed a lot,” he said. “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. That’s a tough question to answer, because you know, you don't realize, you know, how much you don't know, and eight or ten 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 ten years from now. I think probably more than anything I'm appreciative of the sponsors and of the opportunities that I have right now versus 2002.”

If McMurray had made the Chase, he would be 155 points out of the lead. If anyone had told me he would run this good his first year back with Ganassi, I would have called them crazy. But Jamie is getting it done, and if he keeps it up next year there’s a good chance he will be in the Chase.

Speaking of next year, the contract for an extension for McMurray is being finalized (and is pretty much a guarantee to happen), but Jamie had no official announcement on Saturday.

“We are really close on that. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. It's just there's really not anything to discuss right now, and hopefully it will all be done soon. And when that is, we can kind of talk about it then,” McMurray said. “I'm not trying to be a butt hole, I just don't really have anything to say about it.”

In closing, I’ll say McMurray has no worries about people calling him that. Instead, they are finally calling him a contender. It only took eight years, but it’s something no one can deny at this point.

Jimmie bounces back … again
Many fans were probably happy when they saw Jimmie Johnson spinning, and they thought he was going to lose the points lead.

Those of us who have watched Jimmie Johnson over the years knew that wasn’t going to happen. As he always does when bad luck strikes, Johnson methodically worked his way through the field, and ended up leading laps, finishing 3rd and retaining his points lead. … And I expected nothing less.

Barring a wreck at Talladega it’s going to take a miracle for this guy to have a bad finish and give up that points lead, despite the hopes of all the fans who are tired of the same guy winning the Cup every year.
After the race, Johnson said his team has come to realize that they will always have a shot at a good finish, even if things start out bad, due to their high level of confidence.

“In years past, there has been segments of a season where, yeah, I've had that confidence,” Johnson said. “Coming into the Chase, I didn't have that confidence. I didn't think we were in that position, and maybe that's what everyone was kind of noticing and thought we were vulnerable because of that. I know we are capable of it, and I think tonight we proved to ourselves more than anything that we can come back and fight through issues and still get a good finish.”

That’s good news for Jimmie, and bad news for everyone else. More bad news for them: The next race is at Martinsville, where Jimmie has amassed a healthy collection of grandfather clocks throughout his years in the Cup series.

Kyle Busch frustrated with 2nd
Kyle Busch finished 2nd, but you’d think he was 30th based on his post-race interview. Busch was disappointed that McMurray was able to pull off the win, and unhappy that he couldn’t take the win

"He (Jamie McMurray) was faster than me and he beat us. Nothing to it but that. Just didn't quite have it at the end. I gave it
up two nights in a row. … It's real, real frustrating to not come out of here with a win at a track that I have yet to win at and have
been so fast at. I'm sorry to all the guys, I mean everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, everybody in the engine shop, chassis shop - it's my job to come out here and get a win for these guys."

He went on to say that he should have communicated better with the team.
"It's very tough and it's very, very frustrating and disappointing. I gave it all I had, but (Jamie) McMurray was just better than
me and I'm sorry to all my guys. I didn't give up any, but we just didn't have the right changes. Apparently I didn't
communicate enough right or something."

Don’t get down on yourself Kyle, there is the possibility the other team was just better.

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