Total Turnaround: Jamie McMurray Proving Naysayers Wrong
Jamie McMurray’s career as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver was over when Jack Roush decided that the No. 26 team was the one that was going to be cut to get Roush Fenway Racing under the newly mandated four-team cap.
Or so everyone said.
McMurray was picked up by Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing (EGR), a move that reunited him with owner Chip Ganassi. Still, the naysayers had their doubts.
“EGR only fields two teams. They can’t be competitive with Hendrick and Roush and Gibbs,” they said. “McMurray will be back full time in Nationwide shortly.”
Those are direct quotes.
So, not a bad stretch so far in 2010 for a guy who, according to many, lost his right to be in stock car racing’s premier series when Roush told him to hit the bricks.
Of course, McMurray started the year off about the best way one can with a win in the Daytona 500 — his first time out in the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. For the season, McMurray has the one win, two poles, four top-fives and five top-10s. That includes three second-place finishes in the last five races.
I mean, NASCAR.com showed Martin Truex Jr. as the driver of the No. 1 Chevy 10 races into the season.
Buoyed by the strong runs over the last month, McMurray sits 15th in the Sprint Cup standings, only 26 points behind the Chase cutoff at 12th place.
The last eight years of struggling belies the expectations that were laid on the young McMurray after winning in his second time out in Cup racing filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin at Charlotte in October 2002. Three winless years at Ganassi found McMurray changing seats heading to Roush to replace Kurt Busch, a pairing that never seemed like a good fit, leading only to two wins in four years.
And everyone can win at Roush — except for David Ragan, but that’s a whole other story.
Long gone was the vibrant young driver who once got so excited talking to the media at Rockingham that he missed the beginning of Busch practice. In those first couple of years, he always seemed to be upbeat and enjoyed being at the racetrack.
But the wear of the not winning for so long made McMurray a bit cynical, not that that reaction is uncommon with the grind of the 36-race schedule, testing and sponsor commitments. In the six years that the Chase for the Cup has existed, McMurray has yet to make the final 12.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see McMurray racing for something that really matters after Richmond in September. The team has battled through some adversity. The three second-place finishes at Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte came after a rash of post-Daytona poor finishes and an on-track fracas with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. So finding some consistency is going to be key.
“Every race that we’ve actually finished without an issue, we’ve had a top-five car,” McMurray said. “It’s been incredible, the speed that our cars have had all year long.
“We run second one week and 30th the next. It’s just about being a little bit more consistent ... Pocono is not a very good track for me. Next week will be about getting a solid finish out of it. If that means 10th or 15th, you need to finish there, not screw up, run 30th.”
Considering where he was six months ago, I’m sure McMurray is elated to be looking for some consistency out of his race car, instead of looking for a race car.
Contact Andy Cagle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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