Crunching numbers: Jamie McMurray

March, 10, 2011

In my little corner of the NASCAR page, I usually focus on the "what is" and not the "what if." But since it's an off week, I think I'll wander off the beaten path and play the what-if game (so much better than Hungry Hungry Hippos).

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote about what would happen if there was a Chase in every season since NASCAR started its modern points system in 1975. (You can read about it here.)

This offseason, NASCAR instituted its first major points overhaul since 1975, going for a simplified and more streamlined system. Quite simply, one point per position.

The researcher in me wondered: What if NASCAR had this points system when it instituted the Chase in 2004? Now I know things may have turned out differently if different drivers were running for the championship, but stick with me and we'll have some fun.

No titles would've changed hands and Jimmie Johnson would still be going for his sixth straight, but one career might've turned out far differently.

Jamie McMurray would've made the very first Chase, qualifying on points instead of Ryan Newman after his ninth-place finish in the regular-season finale at Richmond.

Then on the strength of eight top-10 finishes in the Chase, McMurray would've rallied to finish fourth in points, 17 back of champion Kurt Busch. All that in just the second full season of his Sprint Cup Series career.

How would that have affected McMurray's career, and the future of Chip Ganassi Racing?

Would McMurray and Ganassi have stuck together? And, spurred by the young driver's marketability and success, could Ganassi have attracted the sponsors to keep his team afloat, instead of having to merge with DEI to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?

Furthermore, how would that have affected drivers like Sterling Marlin, Casey Mears and Reed Sorenson, whose careers took hits with the downfall of Chip Ganassi Racing?

McMurray, reunited with Ganassi at EGR last season, also would've made the Chase based on his two regular-season wins, which I deem "The McMurray Rule."

Last year, McMurray would've made the Chase despite sitting 15th in points after Richmond based on his two regular-season wins. He added another win in the Chase, but his inconsistency (he had a win but only two other Chase top-10 finishes) would've doomed him to just a sixth-place finish in points.

The landscape of NASCAR may not have been overhauled by the points change had it taken place in 2004 instead of 2010. But the careers of McMurray and all of the drivers who came through Chip Ganassi Racing in that time may have been drastically altered.

Now, for all you fans who thirst for knowledge, drink up, my friends. Here's how the fields for the past Chases would've changed had this new points system been in force:

• 2004 -- Jamie McMurray goes from out to in, making it on points. Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman make it on wild cards.

• 2005 -- The top 10 in points stay the same, so Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick take the wild cards.

• 2006 -- The top 10 stay the same again, but Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle make it on wild cards. Stewart, who won three Chase races, goes into the Chase finale two points behind Jimmie Johnson, but finishes third.

• 2007 -- In the first 12-driver Chase, no changes.

• 2008 -- Two midyear wins get Kasey Kahne in on the wild card at Matt Kenseth's expense.

• 2009 -- Brian Vickers misses the Chase (how would that have affected his status at Red Bull Racing?), and Kyle Busch gets in.

• 2010 -- McMurray makes the field and finishes sixth in points. Clint Bowyer misses the Chase.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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