The Frontstretch: Jamie McMurray: Predictions Of His Demise Were Premature by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday November 12, 2008

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Jamie McMurray: Predictions Of His Demise Were Premature

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday November 12, 2008


Roush Fenway Racing appears to be heading into 2009 with all five of its cars hitting on all cylinders. Considering four of those men will finish the year 13th or better in Sprint Cup points, that’s hardly a big surprise. But to have the fifth car suddenly running with the rest … it’s something you couldn’t have imagined as little as six months ago.

But Jamie McMurray’s late season charge has been both impressive and unexpected — especially when you consider he was the “victim” of a Silly Season move that never happened. Remember, the Joplin, Missouri native had been reported to be out of a ride at Roush Fenway Racing back in early June. And when reports surfaced that McMurray would be ousted from the leading Ford team’s stable, perhaps as early as the end of this year, few would have called themselves surprised. After three years of struggle and just one victory, many had already concluded that changes were inevitable — changes that could only mean Jack Roush giving up the ghost and starting anew with the No. 26 Crown Royal team.

It certainly made good sense at the end of May, when McMurray had posted another lackluster, back-of-the-pack 23rd place finish at Lowe’s Motor Speedway that ironically left him 23rd in the points. Through the first 12 races of the 2008 season the 32-year-old, now in his sixth full season of Cup, had only one Top 10 finish with just five laps led on the season. Clearly, a race team out of the ultra-competitive RFR camp performing so poorly would not stand.

So, the June 4th edition of Turn 5 even took the bait hook, line and sinker, echoing the mainstream opinion in a piece titled, Jamie McMurray: Unfilled Expectations – it was a piece centered around a theme that sometimes, things just don’t work out.

“In the end, barring a miracle, Jack Roush will release McMurray before the end of his contract,” I said back then. “Even if it’s not until 2009, he surely cannot resign him with the performance — or lack thereof — that the two have experienced for more than two years. And when it happens, the move won’t be personal … just business.”

While still trying to fully digest the belly full of crow’s pie that I’ve been forced to eat based on those statements, let me say that it did not take miracles for Jamie McMurray to retain his employment with Roush Fenway — just some good finishes. The flower has been a little slow in blooming; but in the past few races, bloom it has!

After a puzzling couple of seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, Jamie McMurray and the No. 26 team seem to have turned the corner.

Over the last five weeks, McMurray has ticked off impressive results, with four Top 7 finishes that include consecutive third place runs. The only exception was Martinsville, where while running amongst the leaders early and leading a handful of laps the No. 26 Ford experienced mechanical problems which required McMurray to spend 35 laps behind pit road for repairs. He finished 38th.

So, how in the heck was this turnaround made possible? First off, McMurray never bought into the news of his imminent demise. In fact, he denied the reports while his boss, Jack Roush, consistently stated that he was signed through the 2009 season — and that he would be with Roush Fenway Racing at least until then.

Speaking with Marty Smith at about the firestorm of rumors surrounding his job status five months ago, McMurray stated, “I didn’t really pay attention to everything that happened earlier in the year. I knew what the truth was. And I knew where the media was coming up with some of their stories. I knew where they were coming from, but they didn’t have the whole story.”

Apparently, what the media had was nothing more than supposition. Once someone whispered “off the record” that McMurray was under fire, it was fodder enough to put two and two together and go to print. Unfortunately, the total came back to haunt them as something other than four. But so believable was the scenario that McMurray had been sacked at RFR, insiders, including other team owners, assumed the situation incorrectly, as well. McMurray told Smith, “At the same time, when I was getting fired, I was having numerous car owners call me and try to hire me,” he explained. “So, it would really suck if you thought you were going to lose your job and weren’t going to have one. Everyone was saying I was getting fired, but at the same time, I was flattered by the amount of teams that were calling me.”

It’s easy to jump to conclusions, though, considering what had already transpired since McMurray’s much-ballyhooed arrival at Roush Fenway. After a highly publicized early release from Chip Ganassi Racing that had seen McMurray almost qualify for the Chase twice in his time with the second-tier outfit, McMurray had slipped significantly in his new ride. With Ganassi, the Cup newcomer had posted 13th, 11th and 12th place points finishes, which made him a seemingly sure bet to be a championship contender with equipment as stout as RFR’s. However, with only few and far between glimpses of the potential Roush saw in him, McMurray posted dismal seasons in 2006 and 2007, finishing 25th and 17th, respectfully.

But poor mathematics aside, it was wrong to pen a farewell to a still very much alive and kicking McMurray. His recent surge into 16th in points with a string of solid performances has made any thought of dumping the still promising driver with more than a year left on his contract both unwise and highly unlikely.

That McMurray was not a “hit” right out of the box with the Roush Fenway team is still as puzzling as when termination of employment talk came to a head in May. From the moment in 2005 that it was announced McMurray would move to the Roush camp, it was generally assumed that the marriage would at the very least be a cinch to qualify for the Chase. So far, it hasn’t happened — although it’s not because of a lack of effort on the part of either side.

The last word on the future of Jamie McMurray at Roush Fenway Racing has not yet been written. But he won’t be going anywhere else soon, either. Especially if he continues to deliver the goods, he’ll finally begin to meet the high expectations set for him.

Who will make the cut at the end of next season when Roush Fenway Racing is required to reduce their team numbers from five to four by 2010 will be interesting. And there will certainly be plenty of speculation, as decision time grows closer. With Matt Kenseth assumed to be untouchable and both Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards having recently extended their agreements with the organization, it would seem that a decision will at some point have to be made to keep either the dramatically improved David Ragan or McMurray.

But no matter what happens, most people have learned a long, hard lesson on this story. It is probably best not to jump so fast next time at the first rumor that fits a preconceived notion of how things in the NASCAR world add up — because reality is often completely different.

And…That’s my view from Turn 5.

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don mei
11/12/2008 10:29 AM

McMurray is a class act. Good for him.

Doug Scholl
11/12/2008 11:31 AM

I voted No he should be gone out of the 26. This was a bad deal all around percipiatated by Kurt Busch going to the media to ask out of his contract a year early and take the #2 ride.

Jammie Mac and Casey Mears have had almost identical careers, flash in the pants victories and more torn up sheetmetal than top 10’s. Why? Consistantcy and stability. Something niether of these two drivers have ever had, and guess what. Won’t have next year. Jamie Mac gets a new chief and Casey another new team. The new crew chief announcement was 7 weeks prior to the end of the season, why? I know I’m reading between the lines but could there have been another message there. A new crew chief with a new team maybe?

Jamie is also not a good pitchman for either of his sponsors which doesn’t help bring in the money. Heck if he needs a good match with a sponsor I suggest Paul Mitchell because his perfect hair and manicured fingers have never worn a hardhat or swung an Irwin hammer. Can you imagine a hospitality contest between Jamie and Irwin and Matt and Dewalt. Jamie would scream he broke a nail (fingernail that is).

Jamie is in a bad spot but the money is too good to give up and if they’re willing to pay him to drive in circles and turn right twice a year then why not get paid well for it. If he has aspiration of becoming a championship driver he would be better suited finding a ride with a stable team in a lower series that needs a recongnizable face (and hairdo) to bring in a sponsor.

11/12/2008 12:42 PM

What do you mean McMurray is not a good pitch man? The folks at Crown Royal absolutely love him, and have stated if he got fired they’d probably go with him

Doug Scholl
11/12/2008 01:20 PM

I don’t doubt that Crown Royal loves him. Purple is Jammie Mac’s favorite colour. But the realistic side is that he does the drive home safe campaing and meets his sponsors obligations and hasn’t gotten a DUI.

Alcohol sponsors are a different breed due to a marketing campaing has limitations on it and souveniners sales have to be classified as “adult”.

That was one of the selling points of Dale leaveing BUD to generate more money in souvenier sales.

But you’re not going to see Jammie Mac pouring Crown shooters into his coke zero anytime soon.

Mike Neff
11/12/2008 01:28 PM

The talk of McMurray losing his job was not premature, and is still relevant. A handful of races does not justify him keeping a job that he has drastically underperformed in during his time at Roush. He has run 107 races and Roush Fenway and he has recorded 9 top five finishes. 9!!!!!! Take out the three top fives in the last five races and he had six in 100 races. In the meantime his counterparts have been scoring them in the neighborhood of 20-30% of the time. David Ragan, the “dart without feathers” has knocked down eight top fives in 73 races. That gives him 32 races to score one more top five to match McMurray’s output. McMurray has had a good run the last few weeks, but that limited success cannot outweigh the plethora of bad efforts he has put in during his three year tenure at RFR.

11/12/2008 01:31 PM

Very nice article, Tommy. I was beginning to doubt Jamie as a driver, but the information learned the past few weeks has been enlightening. I am not holding the enthusiasm that Jamie has for the 2009 season.

Doug, your position is exactly that of an outsider that isn’t taking in all of the facts. Jack Roush was going to move the Crown Royal sponsorship to one of his other cars, but they immediatley nixed that idea when they said they would only sponsor if Jamie McMurray was the driver. There has to be an element of performance or Crown Royal would have just baled. On top of that, Jack Roush, Larry Carter, and Jamie’s teammates have all voiced in different articles that he is a talent. Yes, he had to have a change in attitude to help get that team turned around. That process has actually been a work-in-process through this entire 2008 season. Jamie’s team is now set and his confidence is being boosted even further with the addition of Donnie Wingo as his crew chief. That is no different from Bob Osborne coming back as Carl’s crew chief.

I could be wrong, but I think that many will be eating their words next year. Is Jamie championship material? At this point I would say ‘No’, but he is definitely Chase material. In reality, how many of the Chase drivers can one say are championship material? Not many. Therefore, I would say that Jamie is pretty valuable right now and Jack Roush knows it.

11/12/2008 01:34 PM

Sorry, that is I NOW hold the enthusiasm that Jamie has for the 2009 season. I had a typo in my first response.

11/12/2008 02:33 PM

McMurray’s late blooming into a weekly top 10 contender and David Ragan’s near miss of this year’s chase means that Roush Fenway Racing has an interesting problem next year.

If anyone has forgotten, after 2009, RFR must disband/sell/divest one of its five teams. Now, the most likely scenario is that the team goes over the “Yate Racing” which would also be at four with Kvapil, Gilliland, Menard, and the RFR outcast.

However, which of the five drivers to you cast to Yates or elsewhere?

I still think that Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth are untouchable so we are still left choosing between Ragan and McMurray. Which Ragan and McMurray also being legitimate 2009 Chase, if not championship contenders who goes?

If it were my call, I’d have to wait until the latter part of next season.

I’d like to see other opinions.

11/12/2008 02:43 PM

I’m with you, Ace. Roush definitely has a huge decision to make. I wouldn’t eliminate Kenseth as the odd man out just yet, however. He doesn’t seem to me to be as happy as he had in the past. Most of this is due to Robbie Reiser moving off the pit box and Matt getting a new crew chief. Again, maybe I’m wrong. In any case, we have seen stranger things lately and I wouldn’t rule out Kenseth going somewhere else next year.

I agree about Edwards and Biffle. They are secure and it doesn’t look like they are going somewhere else any time soon.

Gerry Blachley
11/12/2008 07:06 PM

Are you guy saying that with all the MONEY set backs NA$CAR, will not change the four car deal back to run as many as you want, Jack WILL run five Cars and NA$CAR will be kissing his ass to get the cars. and how could you say BF was drunk he has proven he is mentally challenged, or just plain stupid, drunk come on!

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