CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Jamie McMurray has no regrets about the ebbs and flows of his career since his 2002 Sprint Cup debut with Chip Ganassi Racing.
There was a win in his second career start as Sterling Marlin’s injury replacement, then two near misses on the Chase for the Cup championship field. He eventually decided the Ganassi organization was too small for him and he wanted to try something bigger, at Roush Fenway Racing, where he spent four unsatisfying seasons.
Looking for a new home in 2010, he wound up back with Ganassi, where they won three of the biggest races of the year in a breakout year for driver and owner.
But there was no follow-up, no momentum, as 2011 and 2012 were rebuilding years for the entire organization.
Through it all – only two wins with Roush, no appearances in the Chase in nine seasons – McMurray has never kicked himself for leaving Ganassi after the 2005 season. Instead, he views it as a learning experience that shaped his adulthood, led him into marriage and fatherhood, and helped him become content with his career.
“For me, meeting my wife, some of the people I dated leading up to that, made me pick what I wanted and what I didn’t want, and the same thing with going to a different race team,” McMurray said. “I realized that where I was at [Roush], I wanted things the way they are done here [at Ganassi], and I wanted to be treated the way I am treated here.
“I’m really happy now. As a driver, I went through the ‘couldn’t wait to get out of here and go on to the next thing,’” he said. “And now I know what it’s like at other places. I think most drivers would like to stay where they are for their careers, especially if they can be successful. I think there are very few people in the garage who are like, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here and go somewhere else.’ Most want to stay where they are and work it out.”
So McMurray, like everyone else at Ganassi, has dug in the last several years in an effort to make it work out. Sure, he won the 2010 season-opening Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and the October race at Charlotte for a sweep of three of the biggest races on the calendar.
But the next 2 years saw a combined seven top-10s as McMurray finished 27th and 21st in the standings. Ganassi teammate Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t much better off – he had 10 top-10s and was 21st and 22nd in the points.
The hard work has paid off this year, though, as McMurray heads into Talladega Superspeedway this weekend ranked 12th in the standings with three top-10s, the same amount he scored all of last year. And, Montoya would have won at Richmond last weekend if not for a late caution that sent the race into overtime.
“Our cars have been way better this year. I really think the cars are better now than they were in 2010 when we won the big races,” McMurray said. “Even though we didn’t start this year off winning the Daytona 500, when I look at every track we’ve been to this season, we’ve run really well at every track. Even tracks that for the past years have been tough tracks for us, we’ve run competitively.”
The trick, McMurray said, was the organization heading into research and development mode last year when it was apparent neither driver was going to make the Chase.
“We had a really good plan, and we spent the last half of last year, both teams kind of went in separate directions and tried to get developed on what we needed for this year,” McMurray said. “They did a really good job over the winter of picking the right chassis to build and the right components to bolt onto it, and I think our simulation program has come a long way.
“... And our [two] cars have been able to run a lot closer than what they had been in past years, and that’s really important, because when one team is behind, you can go borrow and feel comfortable that if you put their stuff in, you can improve because they are quick.”
McMurray also gives credit to team owner Ganassi, who moved to Hendrick Motorsports engines this year and made the commitment to turn the NASCAR program around.
“Chip has made a massive financial contribution to have the engines and to help the team,” McMurray said. “I’m happy for him because I know he’s put a lot into this, and it’s great that both cars are finally good.”