Daytona has always had this magical aura with stories surrounding the Daytona 500 that everybody loves to tell over and over. As we near closer to the Daytona 500, here is a look back through some of the highlighted moments in Daytona 500 history.
Jamie McMurray had been let go from Roush-Fenway Racing as the odd man out when Roush has to downsize his team, looking for a new ride.
Earnhardt-Ganassi had just lost Martin Truex Jr. to Michael Waltrip Racing and was now looking for a driver to go with sponsor Bass Pro Shops. Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing found themselves also in question with the status of the team after the merger between Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Both needed somebody and needed to turn their ship back upstream so they went to each other – Chip Ganassi called on Jamie McMurray to drive for the No. 1 car for him.
They had worked together as McMurray began his Sprint Cup career at with Ganassi in 2002. It was announced at Richmond that he’d drive the No. 42 Dodge for the 2003 season full-time, although after Sterling Marlin was injured at Kansas, those plans were accelerated. McMurray began driving the car at Talladega in 2002. They had success quickly together then as in his second-ever start, he led 96 of the final 100 laps to win the UAW-GM Quality 500. The following seasons produced positive final standings finishes as he finished 13th, 11th and 12th in points, despite zero wins. During this time, he accumulated 18 top fives and 46 top 10 finishes.
At the end of the 2005 season, McMurray left Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 26 Roush-Fenway Ford, hoping for bigger results. Though in return, the point finishes weren’t there: He finished 25th 17th, 16th and 22nd over the next four years with a total of 11 top fives and 42 top 10s. He did manage to win two races (2007 Coke Zero 400 and 2009 Amp Energy 500), but for the most part, the expected success wasn’t there.
As a result, the 2010 Daytona 500 became the perfect story for both McMurray and Ganassi as it began the start of the second partnership. The race couldn’t had gone any better as McMurray took the lead with a pass by Kevin Harvick on the second green-white-checkered after a big push from ex-teammate Greg Biffle. McMurray never looked back as he took the win over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle.
When it came to McMurray’s victory celebration, he let all the emotions out that he had gone through during this time as fans saw him fall to his knees in tears on the Daytona logo, followed by more tears in victory lane.
“Unbelievable,” McMurray said in victory lane in tears. “Unbelievable. I told my wife today, she was like if you win tonight….oh I am going to cry…it is so unreal. I thought if I made it without seeing my Dad or my wife, I’d be ok. It is unbelievable really. I can’t explain it. It is a dream. I mean it really it is.
“Where I was last year…and for Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops) and Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates), Bass Pro Shops to take a chance on me and let me come back, it means a lot to me. What a way to pay them back. Happy Valentines Day to my wife. My Dad is here, it is just very emotional.
“After we won Talladega, we went to McDonald’s. I think tonight we will have a Big Mac.”
McMurray said earlier in the weekend that he was glad that he kept a good relationship with Ganassi and Sabates since he was able to get this chance again.
With the Daytona 500 victory, he certainly proved he was worthy of a second chance and that their second time together could equal to lots of success.
McMurray’s dream season this past didn’t just end with the Daytona 500 as he won the second biggest race of the year—the Brickyard 400, which gave Chip Ganassi the Indy sweep as Dario Franchitti won the Indy 500 earlier in the year.
“I think it’s just a situation where you got to get the guys in the right position with the right crew chief and the right team and the right owner,” McMurray said following the Brickyard win. “I’ll tell you something that [team owner] Chip [Ganassi] said to me right before I got in the car. He said, ‘Let’s go out and do this thing.’ I said, ‘I’ll give you everything I got.’ He said, ‘I know, that’s why I hired you. I believe in you. You go out and do your best, that will be enough.’
“I think every driver is different, but for me that’s what drives me, is having somebody behind you. I think it’s been really good for both Chip and I to experience all of this together because we were together when things weren’t great and we kind of built this together along with the 1 team to where it is.”
McMurray then finished NASCAR’s version of the triple crown by winning in NASCAR Central, winning the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I also want to take the time to explain something: as the laps were winding down, I was thinking about Daytona and crying in victory lane,” McMurray said in victory lane at Charlotte. “I don’t think I ever really got to explain that, and why I cried, and what was going on there. As those laps were winding down I was thinking about Daytona and why I cry and the power of prayer. I had a tough year last year. I found out the power of prayer and what that can do for you.
“When you get to victory lane, and you get to experience this, it just makes you a believer. I talked to Chip earlier today, and we were discussing sponsorship and where this organization was a year ago, and how far we’ve come.
“To be in victory lane four times this year, and to have both cars (teammate Juan Pablo Montoya) run as well as they do, and to have the support we do from Target and all these sponsors now, it’s incredible. And I just feel very blessed to be a part of it.”
As a whole, McMurray had one of the best seasons that any driver could have. One of the downsides is yes, he did miss the Chase, however, it still was a great year, considering how lost things were at the beginning.
“We’ve had a really good season,” McMurray said in the media center following his Charlotte win. “Our successes have been in some really big races, and it’s really been a gratifying year. You just drive your heart out. If you’ve got the car, you can make those passes, and we had the better car at the end.”
In the end, he finished the year off 14th in points with three wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s.
McMurray’s season allowed Ganassi to establish himself as a valid NASCAR owner by winning two of the biggest races in the sport. Ganassi also completed what he calls the “Ganassi Slam” as his team won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, giving him four of the biggest wins at the two of the biggest tracks in a 12-month span.
This story proves that anything is possible and when times get tough, there are ways to get through and make a positive at the end of the journey. The magical side of the emotions and how it played out go back to the Daytona’s Magical Aura of creating stories that fans will remember forever.