Mcmurray Climbed NASCAR Ladder

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Long before Jamie McMurray was celebrating in Victory Lane Sunday night as the winner of the Daytona 500, he was learning the stock-car ropes from a NASCAR legend on the short tracks of the Midwest.

McMurray, 33, of Joplin. Mo., established his NASCAR career in the early 1990s in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks in his home state. McMurray and his father/car owner Jim also had the benefit of friendship with five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo.

"Larry would have been thrilled to see Jamie win the Daytona 500," said Judy Phillips, wife of the racing legend who passed away in 2004. "Jim McMurray and Larry got to be friends. Larry really thought Jamie was a good racer who had talent. It took Jamie a while to learn the ropes of Late Model racing, and when he got competitive, Larry was really proud of him."

McMurray tried out a NASCAR Late Model at the age of 16 in 1992, but settled into Modified division in 1994 and began to sharpen his skills at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., and Phillips’ home track, Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway.

The following season McMurray posted top-10 points finishes in the division at Lebanon and Bolivar (Mo.) Speedway. In 1996, McMurray moved up to the Late Model division, and finished sixth in track points at I-70.

"My experiences in the NASCAR weekly racing series almost certainly helped to prepare me for the success I have had in my NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career," McMurray said. "The hard work and dedication it took in that series taught me to respect the effort and work that goes into being competitive, not only as a race car driver but as a professional."

At the age of 21, McMurray won the 1997 NASCAR Late Model division championship at Lebanon, topping runner-up Phillips for the title. McMurray placed fourth in the regional NASCAR point standings.

He continued to race at Lebanon and Bolivar in 1998, then branched out in 1999, running the full ARTGO/NASCAR Midwest Series schedule. He also received a five race tryout in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series by team owner Mike Mittler and posted a best finish of 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He spent the next year running selected NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events, and then got a full-time Nationwide Series ride with owner Clarence Brewer in 2001 and his breakthrough year of 2002.

McMurray’s Nationwide Series exploits had caught the eye of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Chip Ganassi.

When Ganassi’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Sterling Marlin was sidelined by injury, he hired McMurrary in the Fall of 2002 to finish the season. McMurray then scored a stunning October win at Charlotte in only his second Sprint Cup start. Later that month, he scored his first two Nationwide Series wins for Brewer and finished sixth in that series points.

The 2010 season is McMurray’s ninth year in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, He drove for the Ganassi team from 2002 through 2005, before he joined Roush Fenway Racing. He returns to the Ganassi team from Roush Fenway this year.

The 2010 Daytona 500 represents McMurray’s fourth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.

"Jamie McMurray’s victory Sunday night was a win for the racers all over North American who are putting in the long hours and hard work in hopes of climbing up the NASCAR ladder," said George Silbermann, NASCAR managing director of racing operations. "Like many up-and-coming drivers throughout NASCAR, Jamie has long dreamed of winning 'The Great American Race.' For him to finally realize this goal is a testament to his perseverance and determination. Jamie’s victory is an inspiration for drivers at every level of NASCAR."

McMurray also has seven NASCAR Nationwide Series wins and one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win. McMurray has won three pole awards in each of NASCAR’s three national series.

MORE TIES: Manion Goes From Modifieds To Helping McMurray

The road for Kevin Manion, McMurray’s crew chief, to Daytona 500 Victory Lane also went through NASCAR's developmental series

Manion, fifth year crew chief for the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, was just 14 when he started helping NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Bobby Fuller. Manion cleaned the race car and started doing general mechanic’s work.

His first job as a crew chief came at the NASCAR sanctioned Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass., working on driver Chris Woods’ Late Model. In 1993, Manion became crew chief for Sheba Racing, a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team, with drivers Jeff Fuller and Steve Park. Tommy Baldwin Jr. joined the team as crew chief in 1995. Park, Baldwin and Manion missed the Tour championship by just three points.

Manion joined Dale Earnhardt, Inc.’s new NASCAR Nationwide Series team as a mechanic in 1997. He got his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win as a crew chief in 2002 with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The team won back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series championships with driver Martin Truex Jr. in 2004 and 2005. He was then named crew chief for DEI’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 1 Chevrolet and hasn’t slowed down since. McMurray’s Manion-led team is now known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Manion currently fields a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour car in tribute to the late Tommy Baldwin Sr. for events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Ten of the top 11 finishers in this year’s Daytona 500 are products of the NASCAR ladder system
Daytona Finish NASCAR Ladder System Roots
1. Jamie McMurray 1997 weekly series track champion at Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway – where, at 21, he beat the legendary Larry Phillips for the track title. Also of note, his crew chief, Kevin Manion, is a former crew chief in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and still fields a car on the tour every year at New Hampshire
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Started his NASCAR career running a Late Model at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway, went on to become two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion
3. Greg Biffle Two-time track champion and runner-up for regional title in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in 1995, went on to win championships in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (2000) and Nationwide Series (2002)
4. Clint Bowyer 2002 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Midwest Region champion, went on to race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and win a Nationwide Series title
5. David Reutimann 1997 ROY and 2002 runner-up in the former NASCAR Elite Division Southeast Tour, was 2004 ROY in Camping World Truck Series
6. Martin Truex Jr. Followed his father in running in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and went on to become two-time Nationwide champion
7. Kevin Harvick 1998 K&N Pro Series West champion, graduated to Camping World Series Trucks, and then won 2001 Nationwide Series title
8. Matt Kenseth Ran NASCAR All Pro Series (1995), finished second (1998) and third (1999) in NASCAR Nationwide Series
9. Carl Edwards Whelen All-American Series track champion at Holt Summit, Mo. (2000), then Camping World Truck Series ROY (2003), and went on to finish third, second and first, respectively, from 2005-07 in Nationwide Series
11. Jeff Burton Got his start racing Late Models at South Boston (Va.) Speedway

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