Brickyard 400 victory proves historic for driver and owner
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 (Ganassi) was good for me,” he said. “It made me appreciate everything. I matured so much.”
McMurray’s maturity helped Ganassi become the first owner to win those two races, plus the Indy 500 (Dario Franchitti took first in May) in the same year.
“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 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.
“For me, this is a lesson,” McMurray said. “We were together when it wasn’t great. We’ve built this to where it is. You’ve got to get guys in the right position with the right owner and the right crew chief. I have that.”
Added Ganassi: “People had written Jamie off. They had written us off. Jamie came back a better person. We had grown as a team. He had grown as a driver.”
McMurray hadn’t done much since winning February’s Daytona 500. He had only six top-10s all season, although three of those were second-place finishes. He led just 16 laps on Sunday, the second-fewest ever by a winner. Dale Jarrett led 11 laps while winning in 1996.
“This is unbelievable,” said McMurray, who has five career NASCAR wins. “I’m in shock. This is the greatest racing year of my life.”
McMurray moved up two spots to 16th in the standings, four spots from qualifying for the Chase for the Championship.
“We had a third- or fourth-place car,” McMurray said. “We didn’t have a dominant car, but we had a smart race. We didn’t make any mistakes.”
Ganassi reaped the benefits by winning auto racing’s triple crown.
“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. You wouldn’t dare dream this kind of year. It’s incredible. I need oxygen.”
Not so lucky was Ganassi driver Juan Pablo Montoya. In a race that featured 14 lead changes and six cautions (for 25 laps), he led 86 laps, more than twice as many as anyone else, but lost his shot at becoming the first to win the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 when he crashed with 15 laps left.
Harvick took advantage to grab the lead by blowing past McMurray on the restart.
McMurray returned the favor on the final restart with 11 laps left and wasn’t challenged.
Harvick added 81 points to his lead in the standings, despite battling a broken ignition box and missing a shift.
Montoya, trying to make up ground after a pit stop dropped him from the lead into seventh, hit the wall on lap 146 of the 160-lap race, ending his race and victory hopes. He finished 32nd.
This was a disappointing follow-up to last year, when Montoya led 116 of the first 124 laps, then was penalized for speeding on pit road and finished 11th.
Two-time defending Brickyard 400 champ Jimmie Johnson finished 22nd.
-- Cambridge native Matt Kenseth finished 12th, Eau Claire’s Paul Menard was 14th, and Janesville’s Travis Kvapil finished 24th.
Last updated: 2:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012