Originally Published: May 19, 2014

Sprint Cup: McMurray Stars At Charlotte

Sprint Cup: Another wow moment for Ganassi

By Brant James | ESPN.com

Scott Dixon once snickered that he deserved a trophy for becoming Chip Ganassi's longest-tenured driver. It was those other trophies, three for IndyCar championships and the Borg-Warner for claiming an Indianapolis 500 victory since 2002, that helped build job security with a team owner who in the past has often made sweeping lineup changes trying to stoke his open-wheel, sports car and NASCAR teams.

Jamie McMurray also began racing with Ganassi in 2002, having logged nine seasons years with him -- abbreviated by a lucrative but unfulfilling four-year junket with Roush Fenway Racing. McMurray has never finished higher than 11th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, but he has a talent for creating scrapbook moments. That has value, too. But it's not all they value about the relationship.

And it makes for nice meetings in Victory Lane.

On Saturday, the former Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner added a first win in the Sprint Cup All-Star Race, outdueling Carl Edwards in the final laps to win at the track where he claimed his first Cup win in just his second start in in 2002.

Chip Ganassi
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesChip Ganassi, left, and Jamie McMurray have a penchant for celebrating in Victory Lane at major NASCAR events.

"[McMurray] said to me in Victory Lane tonight, he said, 'We've won a lot of great races together, haven't we?'" Ganassi said. "I said, 'Yes, we have.' You know, it was kind of special for him to think of that, as well, because he's that kind of guy. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver."

McMurray's relationship with Ganassi has changed since he returned to the organization in 2010, he said. Certainly, becoming just the third driver to win NASCAR's most storied race and the Brickyard 400 in his return season with Ganassi set them positively back on their way. Making Ganassi the first owner to win both the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis 500 in the same season didn't hurt either. But the relationship between the often brusque car owner and the sometimes wistful driver with a propensity for tears in sentimental moments has evolved to a point where good feelings last beyond the last pose and hoist of a trophy.

"Since I came back in 2010 Chip is one of my best friends," McMurray said. "When we talk during the week on the phone, we talk a little bit about racing, but we talk more about families and anything but racing. I was so excited that he was here tonight. He showed up, came over after qualifying and I was really upset with myself after qualifying, didn't feel like I did a good job, didn't feel like I was aggressive enough. He came in the hauler, and after the race that's like one of the first things I thought of, was I'm so glad that Chip and [co-owner] Felix [Sabates] are here and I get to share this with them because they were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.

"Chip is somewhat unique, I feel like, in racing in general because most car owners have a separate business, and they don't depend on racing to put food on the table, where Chip is all about racing. You know, he did a book a while back of his hundred wins, and I got to be a part of that, and when I look back at some of the memories of my racing career, almost all of them I've experienced with him, and that's really special to me. When I pulled into ... got up on the stage, I gave him a hug, and I'm like, man, we get to have another one of these incredible memories together."

With a win, albeit in an exhibition, there will be optimism that McMurray could, at 37, could finally become the title contender Ganassi Racing has lacked since Sterling Marlin finished third in 2001, Ganassi's first season in the series. Although 24th in points, McMurray has been greatly impacted by catastrophic finishes. He crashed at Bristol and last week at Kansas, which relegated him to 38th- and 39th-place finishes, respectively, and he had a devastating 42nd-place finish at Martinsville after qualifying ninth. His win Saturday was worth $1 million, but a points win would likely be worth a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup under a new NASCAR points system.

"When I look at our year, we've been like one of the better cars at a lot of races at certain points in the race, and it just seems like every race this season that we've had a car really capable of running well," McMurray said. "Bristol, we were running fifth and [Kevin] Harvick blew that oil line in front of us. Last week, we blew a tire out. It seemed like every time we had a good car something would happen.

"That's really frustrating and that gets your confidence down. But I texted [crew chief] Keith [Rodden] last week, and I'm like, keep your head up ... our cars are really fast, and that's the hardest part of our sport is to have fast cars. Good luck, bad luck, that happens, but if your cars are slow, that's hard to fix in a short amount of time, and we've had awesome cars."

And he took full advantage Saturday in bringing Ganassi another signature moment. And in eliciting the praise not easily given.

"[Professional sports] can be trying at times, and in the ups and downs and the mental side of the sport can be very difficult, and I think Jamie has shown great resilience over the years to hang in there and perform at a high level when the opportunity presents itself, and he did that here tonight," Ganassi said. "I'm sure that that obviously ingratiates Jamie in the mind of a lot of people, and his future is bright, I can assure you."

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr.


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