with RICH FOLEY
This time last year, Jamie McMurray’s NASCAR Cup career was in jeopardy. When team owner Jack Roush had to cut down from five teams to four for 2010, he moved McMurray’s sponsor to Matt Kenseth’s car and put McMurray on the street. The move has so far shaped up to be among the dumbest decisions in NASCAR history.
With very few full-time driving openings available, the best position McMurray could find was at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, taking over the spot vacated by Martin Truex, Jr. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jamie won the Daytona 500 in his first time out with his new team, then followed it with a Brickyard 400 win in July, giving him victories in NASCAR’s two biggest races in the same season. Team owner Chip Ganassi, who also won the Indianapolis 500 in May with driver Dario Franchitti, becomes the first owner to sweep the three races in one year.
Ganassi was the one who gave McMurray his first chance in the NASCAR Cup Series, tapping him to fill in for an injured Sterling Marlin in 2002. Back then, McMurray rewarded Chip by winning at Charlotte in just his second career start, a modern day NASCAR record. He also won the Rookie of the Year title the following year. He later left Ganassi and spent several years driving for Jack Roush before being dumped last year. This time around, McMurray didn’t wait until the second race to thank Chip with a win.
Although several poor finishes currently leave McMurray outside qualifying for the Chase for the Championship, he has dominated the circuit in every other way. In addition to winning NASCAR’s two crown jewels, McMurray has also scored three pole positions through the first 21 races, more than any other driver.
In fact, only two teams (Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas) have won three total poles among all their drivers. Add the two poles won by McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya to his three and Earnhardt-Ganassi dominates the team totals, too.
And, just to rub it in a bit more, McMurray leads the circuit in dollars won, nearing the five million dollar mark. That money and those huge trophies will probably make him feel a bit better if he doesn’t get to run for the season title. But how about those people who made it all possible?
You almost (and I do mean almost) have to feel sorry for Jack Roush. It took 21 races for his four-car team to win its first race of 2010, with Greg Biffle finally winning at Pocono. And none of the four have scored a pole position this year. Just who was the genius who kicked McMurray to the curb and kept David Ragan (24th in points, one top-10, no poles) instead? Look in the mirror, Jack, it was you.
Martin Truex must be feeling almost as bad. True, he has won a pole and has a top-five and five top-tens so far in the NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, but after years in the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, what must he be thinking after watching McMurray win the sport’s two biggest races in his old car? Did he give up on the car too soon, or is McMurray that much better a driver? That question has to be haunting him.
McMurray’s experience will probably give hope to drivers fired in the future that better days can be ahead of them. Or, maybe after Jack Roush’s experience, owners may not be so quick to let a driver go. After all, who wants to look like a fool?
Time running out for a 2010 win
By RICH FOLEY
Observer Motorsports Writer
With 14 races remaining in the 2010 season, you might think there’s plenty of time left for a driver to make his mark. But with only four races until the field is firmed up for the championship chase, those four are vitally important to drivers trying to grab one of the 12 available spots.
Perhaps even more important to some drivers is that the window for scoring a win this year is closing rapidly. Eight drivers who won a race last season are winless so far this year. Chances are that several won’t get a victory with only 14 races to go.
Brian Vickers, already out of action until 2011, is sure not to repeat. Other drivers looking for that first 2010 win include former champions Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, along with Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Stewart, who will probably qualify for the championship chase, is facing the end of an 11-year streak of winning at least one race a year, stretching back to his rookie season in 1999, when he won three times. It would be his first winless Cup season ever.
It’s not a huge deal to Stewart, who owns his team and is unlikely to fire himself. But to someone like Kahne, who has yet to firm up a ride for next year (he joins the Hendrick team in 2012), a win could expand his options. And he’s not the only driver facing changes as drivers and sponsors are already announcing 2011 plans.
Marcos Ambrose is leaving the Little Debbies Toyota at the end of the season. Depending on offers received, he may stay in NASCAR or return to his native Australia. Bobby Labonte has already announced he will take the seat Ambrose is vacating.
Drivers announcing new sponsorship for 2011 include Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Those losing their current sponsor and looking for a replacement include Kevin Harvick and Sam Hornish, Jr.