TRIFECTA! Ganassi gets third big win, but not with the driver expected
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
Chip Ganassi completed his car-owner’s trifecta on Sunday as one of his drivers won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to go along with his victories earlier this year in the nation’s other major races: the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.
But it wasn’t his driver Juan Pablo Montoya – the focus of all the media attention leading up to the Brickyard – who delivered the trophy. It was the driver who has been the biggest surprise of the 2010 season, Jamie McMurray.
It also was McMurray who gave Ganassi a win in the Daytona 500, putting him in a group with Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.
Montoya appeared poised to win at Indy on Sunday. He had the dominant car and led the most laps, 86. But when it came time to make the final pit stop, his crew chose four tires, which put them behind a group including McMurray that took just two and therefore restarted at the head of the pack.
Montoya wound up crashing as he tried too hard to regain the lead, leaving him with only heartbreak to show for his efforts at Indy for two years in a row.
Last year, he dominated the race until a pit-road-speeding penalty took him out of contention.
This time, the two-tire call by McMurray’s crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion put McMurray out front where he had to battle former Indy winner Kevin Harvick for the win. Harvick passed him at one point, but McMurray got back the lead on a restart and drove away to victory.
The latest effort gave him his second win of the season to go along with runner-up finishes in three other marquee events this year, those in the Southern 500 at Darlington, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
He also has three poles from California, Darlington and Chicagoland.
The only downer for McMurray this year is that despite his successes, he’s 151 points short of a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins after six more races.
But you don’t hear him complaining. It was just a year ago that he was being released from Roush Fenway Racing and wasn’t sure where – or if – he’d be racing this year.
But Ganassi, his former car owner, took him back and has been rewarded handsomely for taking that chance.
McMurray said the reversal of his racing fortunes is simply a matter of being placed with a good team that has confidence in his abilities. And Ganassi said that the McMurray who returned to his team was a better driver than the one who left for Roush after the 2005 season.
“People had Jamie written off. People had us written off,” Ganassi said. “But I think what I said once before – a semester at sea for Jamie. He couldn’t have come back a better person. We had grown as a team, and he had grown as a driver. We picked up where we left off, I think. And I’m really happy about that.”
McMurray said success for a driver is all about the people around him.
“I think it’s a lesson for all the media, that instead of writing the story that this guy should be fired, the story should be this guy needs to find a new situation,” he said, pointing out that Elliott Sadler once was winning races and running up front but now seems to have lost his touch. He said that’s likely not the case.
“I think it’s just a situation where you’ve got to get the guys in the right position with the right crew chief and the right team and the right owner,” McMurray said. “I’ll tell you something that Chip said to me right before I got in the car. He said, ‘Let’s go out and do this thing.’
“I said: ‘I’ll give you everything I got.’ He said: ‘I know, that’s why I hired you. I believe in you. You go out and do your best. That will be enough.’
“I think every driver is different, but for me that’s what drives me, is having somebody behind you. I think it’s been really good for both Chip and I to experience all of this together, because we were together when things weren’t great and we kind of built this together along with the [No. 1] team to where it is.”