What a difference a year makes for 2010 Daytona champion
By Rick Minter/ Cox Newspapers
In a heart-warming turn of events, last year’s odd man out at Roush Fenway Racing has become the hottest property of the early 2010 NASCAR season.
Jamie McMurray, who was left without a ride when Roush Fenway was forced to drop from five to four teams to meet NASCAR’s maximum number of teams per owner, languished in limbo for a time before securing a job driving the No.1 Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, the team he left when he moved to Roush.
And on Sunday he gave the Ganassi team its biggest moment ever in NASCAR by surging to the front and scoring a win in the Great American Race, the 52nd annual Daytona 500.
McMurray used a drafting boost from his old Roush teammate Greg Biffle, then held off a fast-closing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get his second straight win in a restrictor-plate race. He also won last fall at Talladega in a Roush Ford, and he won another plate race, in July 2007, at Daytona.
In winning at Daytona, McMurray set a record for the least laps led by a winner, two. It was also one of the race’s longest events, running eight laps past the scheduled distance to accommodate two green-white-checkered-flag attempts. And the race was delayed two times for a total of two hours and 25 minutes so track workers could repair holes in the track. But when the cars were running, it was good racing, with 53 lead changes, the third most at Daytona, among a record 21 drivers.
When McMurray climbed from his Chevrolet in Victory Lane, he was overcome by emotion, pausing to collect himself and wiping away tears as he spoke to a national audience about his triumph.
“Coming off of Turn Four, seeing the checkered flag, knowing there’s not going to be another ‘green white checkered’, you’re going to be the Daytona 500 champion, I can’t explain to you,” McMurray said. “It’s very emotional. I don’t know that I’ve cried like that. I kept trying to compose myself. I couldn’t get it back.”
McMurray’s father, Jim McMurray, who has been a familiar face around the NASCAR garages since his son became a racer, missed the celebration by leaving the track early.
But McMurray mentioned him often in his post-race interview.
“My dad, that’s who I grew up racing with,” he said. “We still race together. He’s literally my best friend probably. That’s just who I hang out with….
“I’m really fortunate that my dad’s cool and I like hanging out with him. He drives me crazy sometimes. I won’t lie to you. We go at each other. But I love him.”
McMurray said it’s no big deal to him that his father missed the Victory Lane celebration.
“I almost kind of laugh at it because I know he’s fired up that he left,” he said. “I got something to yell at him about now. So it’s good stuff.”
Another person who put on a stirring performance but wasn’t smiling at the end was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was as low as 22nd in the running order when the green-white-checkered-flag finishes started but soared to second place at the end.
“I don’t really remember much about it. It was all a blur,” Earnhardt said. “I was just going wherever they weren’t. I really don’t enjoy being that aggressive, but if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.”
Earnhardt and McMurray both said they didn’t think the lengthy delays for repairs to the track would have a lasting effect on fans, even though many left the track before the end of the race.
“Track surfaces are going to have problems from time to time,” Earnhardt said. “This wasn’t a fault of NASCAR. It wasn’t a fault of Daytona’s. It was probably more or less everybody’s cars beating on the race track with trailing arm mounts and tail pipes.
“That’s going to knock a hole in some asphalt, I don’t care where you are.”