Day­tona win­ner McMur­ray sur­prises at the Brick­yard

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Pete DiPrimio

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS — Did you fig­ure Jamie McMur­ray would make NASCAR his­tory at the In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speedway?

Did any­one?

McMur­ray was out of a job by the end of last sum­mer, cut by Roush Fen­way Rac­ing. Last Novem­ber he re­joined Chip Ganassi, the owner he left for Roush Fen­way. He re­turned older, wiser, bet­ter.

On Sun­day, he proved it by win­ning the Brick­yard 400 — beat­ing run­ner-up and se­ries points leader Kevin Har­vick by 1.391 sec­onds — to be­come the third driver to win the Day­tona 500 and Brick­yard 400 in the same year. The oth­ers were Dale Jar­rett in 1996 and Jim­mie John­son in 2006.

“Leav­ing Chip Ganassi was good for me,” he said. “I had to learn the hard way. It made me ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing. I ma­tured so much.”

McMur ray’s ma­tu­rity helped Ganassi be­come the first owner to win those two

Con­tin­ued from C1 races, plus the In­di­anapo­lis 500 (Dario Fran­chitti took first in May) in the same year.

“I didn’t dare dream to get all three of these in one year,’’ Ganassi said.

“Hard work, pas­sion and sac­ri­fice,” Ganassi said when asked about the se­cret to hav­ing suc­cess in NASCAR and IndyCar. “It’s the only way I’ve fig­ured out how to do it. You stay on plan.”

The plan took a de­tour when McMur­ray left Ganassi for a more lu­cra­tive deal, but he won only twice in four years and lost his ride. Ganassi, mean­while, strug­gled to land spon­sor­ship and to fund a sec­ond car.

Then last fall, McMur­ray needed a ride, and Ganassi needed a driver with fi­nan­cial back­ing. They were a per­fect fit. “We were to­gether when it wasn’t great,’’ McMur­ray said. “And now we’ve built this to where it is.”

Added Ganassi: “We had grown as a team. He had grown as a driver.”

“The guy that’s got to feel like an id­iot tonight has to be Jack Roush,” Ganassi co-owner Felix Sa­bates said. “He’s the one that let him go.”

McMur­ray hadn’t done much since win­ning Fe­bru­ary’s Day­tona 500. He had only six top-10 fin­ishes all sea­son, al­though three of those were sec­onds. He led just 16 laps Sun­day, the sec­ond-fewest ever by a win­ner. Jar­rett led 11 laps while win­ning in 1996.

McMur­ray moved up two spots to 16th in the stand­ings, four spots from qual­i­fy­ing for the Chase for the Cup.

“We had a third-or fourth­place car,” McMur­ray said. “But we had a smart race. We didn’t make any mis­takes.”

Ganassi’s triple crown im­pressed the com­pe­ti­tion.

“To win all those (ma­jor races) in one year is re­mark­able,” Har­vick said. “It prob­a­bly will never hap­pen again.”

Added Ganassi: “I hope he’s right. I’m the luck­i­est guy on the planet.”

Not so lucky was Ganassi driver Juan Pablo Mon­toya. He led 86 laps, more than twice as many as any­one else, but lost his shot at be­com­ing the first man to win the Indy 500 and the Brick­yard 400 when he crashed with 15 laps left.

“When Juan was lead­ing and I was in sec­ond, I am a big be­liever in fate, and I thought this was just the way it is meant to be,” McMur­ray said. “I won the 500, Dario (Fran­chitti) won the Indy 500 and Juan is gonna win this race. I re­ally thought it was his day.”

But Mon­toya, on his crew chief’s ad­vice, took two tires and McMur­ray took four on a pit stop with 18 laps to go. Mon­toya fell be­hind driv­ers with fresher tires and crashed into Dale Earn­hardt Jr.’s car while push­ing it to get back to the front. An an­gry Mon­toya left the track with­out com­ment­ing.

“I know he’s mad,” Ganassi said. “But it’s rac­ing. This is what he does for a liv­ing.”

Greg Bif­fle was third in a Ford for Roush-Fen­way and was fol­lowed by Clint Bowyer and two-time Brick­yard win­ner Tony Ste­wart.

Jamie McMur­ray also won the Day­tona 500 in Fe­bru­ary.

Michael Con­roy

Jamie McMur­ray cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the NASCAR Brick­yard 400 at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speedway on Sun­day.

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