Reconstructing Jamie McMurray

By Brody Jones

After the 2009 season, Jamie McMurray was at about as low of a point as one could get in the world of motorsports. After what had been a disappointing four year stint with Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray found himself on the outside looking in when Roush was forced to cut his teams from five down to four. Jamie didn’t have a solid ride locked up for 2010 until his former boss, Chip Ganassi, needed a replacement for the departing Martin Truex Jr. and called his old friend to replace him. Most people likely were not expecting much out of McMurray in 2010. Perhaps a couple of strong finishes here and there, but nothing spectacular.

McMurray started his NASCAR career in 1999 for the Mittler Brothers Truck Series team, which has launched the careers of such drivers as Carl Edwards and Justin Allgaier, and showed great promise. He really shined in 2000 in the Craftsman Truck Series, splitting the season with the Mittler Brothers and TKO Motorsports, the latter team is where he earned two pole positions, a top 5 finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park, and 4 top 10′s. These results impressed Clarence Brewer of Brewco Motorsports enough to put McMurray in his Busch Series car for the 2001 and 2002 seasons, where McMurray won a pair of races in 2002 at Rockingham and Atlanta. Also that year, McMurray pulled off what has to be one of the five biggest upset victories in NASCAR history when in just his second Winston Cup start, he led 94 of the last 100 laps at the October race at Charlotte and won the race. In 2003, despite not visiting victory lane, McMurray beat out Greg Biffle by 37 points in the Rookie of the Year competition. McMurray also had solid seasons in 2004 and 2005 with Ganassi before taking what seemed like a dream opportunity with Roush Fenway Racing. Yes, life was good for McMurray.

But the four years with Roush Fenway were plagued with inconsistency on the track and generally not getting results. Oh, sure, there were a few fleeting moments of glory where McMurray edged out Kyle Busch in the 2007 Pepsi 400, breaking a nearly five-year drought from victory lane and he won the 2009 Amp Energy 500 in one of his last starts for Roush. But those strong runs were too few and far between for Roush and, when the time came to cut his organization down from five teams to four, Roush felt that McMurray was the odd man out and cut him loose. McMurray’s 2009 off-season looked to be very uncertain as there really just weren’t many quality rides available. But fortunately, Chip Ganassi, who has always been fond of McMurray, needed a new driver to replace the out-going Martin Truex Jr. and he gave McMurray a shot behind the wheel.

Fast forward to the 2010 Daytona 500 in the closing laps. McMurray had a strong car all day, but no one was seriously considering him a factor. But with two laps to go, McMurray slithered through traffic like a serpent to the front and held off a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Daytona 500 and start perhaps the most emotional victory celebration in Daytona history where more tears were shed than at a Baptist revival in victory lane by McMurray. It definitely was a feel-good story, but no one figured McMurray would have continued success in 2010. He nearly won at Talladega in the spring and, if not for a late-race caution, possibly had the car to beat at the Coca-Cola 600. If there were any doubts this was McMurray’s year, he put them to rest at the Brickyard 400, a race where many were pointing to teammate Juan Pablo Montoya as the odds-on favorite. While Ganassi won the race, it wasn’t with Montoya. It was with McMurray, who got to kiss the bricks and drink the milk at Indianapolis. But Jamie wasn’t finished yet. He won the October race at Charlotte, resulting in another emotional victory lane interview, dedicating his win to fallen former NASCAR star Shane Hmiel,, who just days earlier had been severely injured in a USAC race at the Terre Haute Action Track.

There were other personal high-water marks for McMurray in 2010, most importantly the birth of his first-born son, Carter, in November. McMurray attributes all of the success to this season to the power of prayer, saying that after the tough 2009 season he went through and to have the success he has had in 2010 that it definitely made him a believer in the power of prayer. So, following a season that turned Jamie McMurray from a journey-man driver into a legitimate weekly threat to win races, one definitely must wonder what lies ahead in 2011 for the Joplin, Missouri native? It definitely will be interesting to see if he can carry over this season’s success into next season.