McMurray happy with latest crew chief change

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jamie McMurray felt a sense of comfort on Monday night as he looked around the dinner table and saw crew chief Larry Carter telling stories about a time when life in the Nextel Cup Series wasn't so complicated.

"We had a miserable season last year. I kept saying, 'It can't get worse,' and it seemed it would get worse."
-- Jamie McMurray

"I was sitting there, looking at Larry, looking at everybody else and said, 'Man, I miss this so much,' " McMurray said on Tuesday during a break in preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway.

"It makes you feel really good to get people that are warm and genuinely really want to be there."

McMurray never felt that way last year. He went through crew chiefs (four) the way Donald Trump goes through wives en route to a career-worst 25th-place finish in the points standings.

He ended the season not knowing who his crew chief would be in 2007.

"We had a miserable season last year," McMurray said. "I kept saying, 'It can't get worse,' and it seemed it would get worse. … When [the final race] was over you just wanted to take a pill and forget everything."

McMurray didn't have that luxury. He was instructed by team owner Jack Roush, who made all the crew chief changes in hopes of turning things around, to come up with a list of people he could work with.

McMurray immediately turned to Carter, who was slated to be David Reutimann's crew chief at Michael Waltrip Racing. The two developed a relationship a few years ago when McMurray drove for Rusty Wallace in the Busch Series and Carter was Wallace's crew chief.

"We always hung out and laughed and had a good time together," McMurray said after posting the fastest lap (183.974 mph) during Tuesday's morning session. "He's a super-sharp crew chief and he calls races really well and he's a great organizer and a great person.

"But at the same time he's someone that I enjoy hanging out with and that's very important to me."

McMurray never had that last year with Jimmy Fennig, Bob Osborne, Wally Brown or Chad Norris. He never felt completely comfortable that they believed in him, making it hard for him to believe in them, particularly Fennig and Osborne.

"That's one thing I like about Larry," McMurray said. "I really feel he believes in me, and that means more to me than anything."

McMurray's crew chief carousel began seven races into last season when Roush replaced Fennig with Osborne, who a year earlier helped Carl Edwards make the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

McMurray and Osborne got off to a good start, finishing 14th at Phoenix and fifth the next week at Talladega. After a 42nd-place finish at Darlington, McMurray finished eighth at Charlotte and second at Dover to climb to 15th in the standings.

Life seemed good from the outside, but not from McMurray's position.

"Everybody was like, 'Oh, that was the problem,' " McMurray said. "I knew Jimmy Fennig wasn't the problem. I didn't feel like Bob Osborne was going to turn the thing around. We just never hit it off."

That showed in the results. McMurray had only two top-10s after Dover, going from the second race at Michigan to the finale at Homestead-Miami with no finish better than 17th and nine finishes of 24th or worse.

He was so frustrated by the start of the 10-race Chase that he asked Roush for another crew chief change. Roush eventually reunited Osborne with Edwards and paired Brown with McMurray.

Norris ran the team at the end of the season when it became apparent Brown was headed to Joe Gibbs Racing.

McMurray can't explain why he never felt Osborne had faith in him. The two never talked about it.

"That's not a question you can answer," he said. "That's maybe a gut instinct. It's one of those things if you have to ask, then you don't feel like they do.

"You match personalities up. Carl's personality goes with Bob's pretty well. They complement each other. Bob and I didn't."

McMurray feels the same sort of chemistry with Carter that he had with Donnie Wingo at Ganassi Racing, where he was 13th, 11th and 12th in points before moving to Roush.

He hopes this week is the beginning of a breakout year, which many thought would happen when he first arrived at Roush to replace 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch.

"For different drivers [the relationship with the crew chief] works differently," McMurray said. "I know this has nothing to do with the race team, but just away from the track stuff like talking on the telephone throughout the week or going out to dinner when you're at the track, that's very important to me.

"I never really had that with Jimmy or Bob."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.