The history of auto racing is full of exciting finishes and surprise winners. Few are more compelling than Jamie McMurray’s victory in the 2010 Daytona 500. A native of Joplin, Missouri, he was a regular competitor at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Missouri, in the late 1990s. Like NASCAR stars Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace, McMurray battled Ozarks legend Larry Phillips before he achieved national prominence.
McMurray signed a contract with Chip Ganassi to compete at NASCAR’s highest level, the Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup Series), beginning in 2003. Fate however, gave McMurray an unexpected opportunity. Sterling Marlin, his future teammate, was injured in a late 2002 crash. McMurray took over for Marlin and shocked the racing world when he won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in just his second career start. It was one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history and McMurray’s future seemed bright.
McMurray drove Ganassi cars for three years but was unable to win again. In 2006, he joined Roush Racing, a larger and presumably more competitive team. McMurray again enjoyed only limited success and in July 2009, the team announced he would not return in 2010.
McMurray visited Springfield Raceway on October 1, 2009, as rumors swirled about his future in NASCAR. McMurray admitted his four years at Roush Racing had been very disappointing, but he was looking forward to new opportunities. One of those was a return to the Ganassi team, if they were willing to take a chance on him again.
McMurray’s fortunes began to change just a month after he visited Springfield when he won a race at Talladega Superspeedway. It was just his second victory in a Roush car but it came when he needed it the most. In November, McMurray officially returned to Chip Ganassi’s team. With sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops, the team had strong connections to the Ozarks as it traveled to Florida for the season opening Daytona 500 in February. NASCAR’s biggest race was marred by a long delay when the asphalt in turn two came apart. Crews spent hours repairing the damage, but when the racing resumed, fans saw a thrilling finish. McMurray pulled away in the last two laps and beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the checkered flag.
In July, McMurray won another major event on the NASCAR calendar, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The victory was especially significant to Ganassi who had won the Indianapolis 500 in May with Dario Franchitti. Ganassi became the first car owner in history to win both races at Indianapolis, plus the Daytona 500 in the same year. McMurray added another victory in October when he won again at Charlotte
Jamie McMurray’s 2010 season is a remarkable story and his future once again seems bright. McMurray and forty-two other drivers will compete in the 53rd annual Daytona 500 on February 20.
Photographs courtesy of Michael Price.
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