At this point last year, Jamie McMurray’s career in the Cup Series was up in the air. Forced out at Roush Fenway Racing due to NASCAR’s rule change restricting teams to four cars, McMurray was out of a ride and nearly out of options. Searching for answers and talking with various teams, he eventually returned to the guy that first gave him a shot at the Cup Series in 2002, Chip Ganassi.
In November, McMurray and Ganassi inked a one-year deal to drive the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. Less than four months later, the pair was standing in Daytona’s victory lane celebrating a win in the biggest race of the year. Six months later, they kissed the bricks at Indianapolis after winning the Brickyard 400.
Sitting 17th in the standings, 172 points out of 12th, McMurray’s chances of making this year’s Chase are slim – but that has not ruined what has been a better than expected season.
“If you were to ask me at the beginning of the season, you could make the Chase or you could win these two races, I would have chosen these two races,” McMurray told Frontstretch.
While every team’s focus is to make the Chase and ultimately win the championship, McMurray contends a year can still be a success despite not making the Chase.
“I feel like the media turns it into, ‘if you don’t make the Chase, you’ve had a devastatingly horrible, rotten year’ and I don’t think it’s that way for everyone,” McMurray said. “I think if you ask David Reutimann if he could have the chance to make the Chase or win a race, I think he’d say winning that race. Because, once that Chase starts, the media makes it such a big deal – but it’s such a big deal from the time you get to Richmond until only about the second race of the Chase. Then, the people that are eighth, ninth, 10th in the points are usually so far out of it that there is no race there for them, and no one really pays any attention to them.”
With both McMurray and Bass Pro Shops locked in only for this season, the team’s performance in the marquee events on the schedule has been impressive, leaving some to wonder if this was the plan all along. Not only has the team won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, they have also contended for wins and finished second in the Southern 500 at Darlington, the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.
The rest of the year, however, has been lackluster at best. Following this weekend’s race at Pocono, McMurray has 10 finishes of 22nd or worse, and the team has battled inconsistency throughout the season.
“Honestly, we could have been second at four or five other racetracks,” McMurray said. “It’s just coincidental that we got to run well at the bigger races.”
Those big events have put contract talks on the back burner, not only for McMurray, but also for Bass Pro Shops. Through their success on the track, coupled with their growing relationship away from the track, McMurray, Ganassi and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris have let the details work themselves out.
Earlier this year in Richmond, Ganassi explained he has people within his organization that handle contract negotiations, and that he was not concerned over either McMurray or Bass Pro Shops leaving at the end of the year. Now that the combination has scored another win in one of the biggest races of the year, it seems likely both will be happy to continue the relationship.
“Johnny Morris has probably been one of the highlights of my year,” McMurray said. “Everyone has met a special person in your life, you really respect them, you look up to them and you hope to be that way one day, and Johnny Morris is that guy for me. Him getting to be there for the Daytona and Indy victories – he doesn’t come to all the races, he comes to a select few races, and I was really glad he got to be there for all of that. He told me when I talked to him (the Monday after Indianapolis), he told me, ‘I told Chip if it was up to me, I would do two tires.’ I think that’s awesome that you’ve got a sponsor who wants to be a part of it that much.
“Running well, whether it’s at those bigger races or any race, it makes – I know McDonald’s and Bass Pro Shops have been really happy, certainly really pleased with our performance and hopefully really pleased with all we’ve done away from the racetrack,” he continued. “Getting put in the situation I was put in last year when you didn’t know where you were going to be driving and you didn’t know who your sponsor was going to be and sponsors were not as [numerous] in the sport, it made me really appreciate what I have and certainly made me appreciate Bass Pro Shops and McDonald’s more than I would have if I hadn’t been through that, for sure. I think there are some people in the sport that have always had a really big brand behind them, and I don’t know if they really understand the appreciation they should have for that.”
Being appreciative is something McMurray understands all too well. When he left Ganassi’s organization in 2005 for Roush Fenway, many figured the move would lead to success right off the bat. Instead, in the four years, McMurray had only two wins, 11 top fives and 32 top 10s. Some questioned his ability to compete in the Cup Series, and others simply wrote him off. But in returning to the Ganassi organization, McMurray has silenced his critics, some even calling him a “superstar.”
“I think that the story I would like people to write is that drivers should not be written off because they’re not having success where they’re at right now,” McMurray said. “Sometimes, people just have to get in a different environment or different situation. I don’t know that the general media always takes into consideration what the environment is like where they’re at.”
“I look back at Jeff Burton when he struggled at Roush Racing; he went over to RCR and now he’s just a great driver every weekend, runs well every weekend,” McMurray pointed out. “You just have to get in the right position. It’s unfortunate that some people come into our sport and never get that chance to get in that position, so I’m lucky to be where I am right now.”
Talking with McMurray, it is clear he truly believes what he says. Written off by some, he does not let the criticism get under his skin. One of the most humble and easygoing drivers in the garage, his attitude remained upbeat throughout the tough times last season, and that attitude never changed through the success he has found this year. While 2010 may not appear to be a success when looking at the numbers, it will always be remembered as the one the marked the return of Jamie Mac.