Resilient McMurray Bounces Back Again
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on May 18, 2014 | 2:14 P.M. EST
Jamie McMurray and owner Chip Ganassi (right) in Victory Lane after McMurray won Saturday night's Sprint All-Star race. (Photo: Getty Images)
CONCORD, N.C. - He cried when he first won. He’s endured droughts and self-doubt. He’s celebrated at some of NASCAR’s most famous races.
There’s been little middle ground in Jamie McMurray’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Although he’s never made the Chase, his win in Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star race makes him one of seven drivers to score victories in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the all-star race in their career, joining a list that includes Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon but not Tony Stewart or Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.
“I've had the absolute best moments of my career, and I've had some really tough times,’’ McMurray said. “It's hard, but you just have to believe that you get in the right position.’’
That seems to be back with his former boss. Chip Ganassi surprised many by signing McMurray in 2002 and then McMurray shocked the sport by winning in his second Cup start as a fill-in for injured Sterling Marlin at Charlotte.
That was McMurray’s lone Cup win with the team before leaving for Roush Fenway Racing in 2006. Four seasons there produced only two wins and McMurray returned to Ganassi’s stable.
Although he’s won more since returning, McMurray also faced more struggles. He followed his three-win season in 2010 by finishing 27th in the points and 21st in the points the next two seasons, as Ganassi’s cars were not fast. It has been a slow progression but performance improved last year and this year.
Hungry to win again, McMurray showed what he could do in a thrilling duel at the start of the final segment Saturday night with Carl Edwards.
They restarted on the front row with Edwards on the bottom lane. Edwards had his moment to take control and didn’t.
“I had him cleared for a minute,’’ Edwards said. “If I would have pulled in front of him in Turn 1, if I would have gone high, I think we would have won that race, but I was just so reluctant to give up the bottom.’’
They nearly touched off Turn 4 and again down the frontstretch when Edwards moved slightly ahead on the bottom lane. McMurray had the avenue he needed to take the lead exiting Turn 2.
“It's three or four of the hardest laps I've ever driven in my racing career, and it's one of those memories that I hope I never forget,’’ said McMurray, who collected $1,035,734 for the victory. “I have such a clear vision of those three or four laps with (Edwards) being on the inside of me, and it's what we wake up every single day and live for is to get to be put in that exact position.’’
It’s that type of drive McMurray has needed throughout a career that has featured peaks and valleys.
“It's really hard, I won't lie,’’ McMurray said. “I feel like I'm harder on myself probably than anyone else is, and when you go through the garage and you look at drivers who are with really good teams, some of them are having bad years, and if you think that they're not doubting their ability or down on themselves, they are, because that's just the way our sport works. I think when you're not doing well, you always wonder if you're capable of competing at this level.’’
How McMurray has dealt with those times had made Ganssi more fond of his driver.
“The ups and downs and the mental side of the sport can be very difficult,’’ Ganassi said. “I think Jamie has shown great resilience over the years to hang in there and perform at a high level when the opportunity presents itself.’’
This year also has had its challenges. While new crew chief Keith Rodden has helped make McMurray’s car fast at times, McMurray hasn’t always had the finishes. He has not had a top-10 finish in a points race since placing sixth at Auto Club Speedway in late March.
“I texted Keith last week, and I'm like, keep your head up ... our cars are really fast, and that's the hardest part of our sport is to have fast cars,’’ McMurray said. “Good luck, bad luck, that happens, but if your cars are slow, that's hard to fix in a short amount of time, and we've had awesome cars.’’
He experienced another special moment Saturday.
“It's tough when things are going bad, but I've got to live some of the greatest victories that you can have in this sport,’’ he said. “It's unbelievable.’’