Ganassi Expands In 2003

RICHMOND, Va. – Chip Ganassi dropped a small bomb on Richmond International Raceway early Saturday afternoon when he announced he was hiring Jamie McMurray to drive a Dodge for his team next season, with ChevronTexaco as the sponsor.

The Havoline Dodge will join Sterling Marlin’s Coors Light Dodge and Jimmy Spencer’s Target Dodge in the Chip Ganassi Racing stable next season. Havoline has been associated with the No. 28 for many years, but the number for the Ganassi/McMurray team is yet to be determined.

McMurray is a relative unknown in NASCAR, currently running his second season in the Busch Series. McMurray posted a career-best finish Friday night in the Funai 250, ending up as the runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He moved quickly through the ranks since winning the Late Model Stock Car track championship at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Mo. in 1997. After a couple partial seasons in the Craftsman Truck Series, he moved to the Busch Series.

McMurray is eighth in the Busch Series points standings, but is yet to score a victory in NASCAR’s major divisions.

Is he ready?

“Chip asked me that,” McMurray said. “I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think I was. I told him the one thing that I’ll have to learn is to stay focused for that long in the race car. Not only do have all the equipment, but they have a personal trainer that’s at the shop, and I’m going to go with whim and get in as good of physical shape as I can.

“I’ve come a long ways mentally since last year when I went to the Human Performance School. They’ve shown me a lot. Yeah, I’m ready.”

Ganassi obviously thinks so, but comparisons will be made to Jason Leffler, who drove for Ganassi last year but was ousted after his rookie season.

“My immediate answer is that when I first met Jamie, I was shocked,” Ganassi said. “The guys seems like a real communicator. Some of these young guys have challenges communicating with people. I didn’t see that in Jamie at all.”

Ganassi said McMurray “is a sought-after young driver with a great work ethic and the talent to win a lot of races in the future.” And Ganassi said he’d be great for Havoline.

“He must have about 50 teeth in his mouth,” Ganassi said. “He’s always got a big smile on his face.”

McMurray was certainly smiling this weekend. He’s 26 years old, and he’s landed a ride with one of the best teams in NASCAR.

“Everybody’s looking for youth,” McMurray said. “Looking at the Busch Series, there’s not a lot of young drivers in the Top 10 in points. Some of the ones that are are under contract still. I am overwhelmed. More than anything, I feel blessed that he’s given me this opportunity to drive his car next year.”

McMurray said it was a “multi-year” deal but sounded like he was sure it would last longer than Leffler’s.

“I feel confident that we’re going to have a good season next year,” McMurray said. “I feel really good about the race team, the sponsor. I know Chip knows how to put together a great race team.”

That includes a crew chief, who is yet to be hired. McMurray was confident Ganassi would give him the right leader he needs.

The deal between McMurray and Ganassi came together quickly, a team spokesman said, perhaps within the week. Ganassi was close to a deal with Ricky Rudd, but a press conference to announce Rudd’s hiring was abruptly canceled. Rudd eventually signed with the Wood Brothers, putting Ganassi back on the driver search.

It ended when he found an enthusiastic McMurray.

“Everyone know what an incredible race team he has,” McMurray said. “When he told me who the sponsor was going to be, I about fell down. I couldn’t believe I was getting the chance to drive the Havoline car. Everybody knows the history behind that car and the great drivers behind it. I’m just honored to get to drive that race car.”

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