Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Previews, predictions and stats for Jamie McMurray and the No. 1 team
The fact that Jamie McMurray joined teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in missing yet another Chase for the Sprint Cup last year wasn’t exactly a surprise for interested observers. NASCAR has never been so dominated by a few elite, top-tier teams — a classification Earnhardt Ganassi Racing certainly doesn’t hold — and McMurray has long been one of the sport’s good guys who has never fully emerged as a championship contender. It’s just not expected.
But 2012 wasn’t just a lackluster season for the Missouri native. It was a year that marked the low point of his Sprint Cup career in nearly every statistical category — even after team owner Chip Ganassi lit a fire under the team before the season by calling its recent efforts “pathetic.”
That fire, combined with some significant changes in personnel (longtime DEI, then EGR employees Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover departed after 2011), failed to result in anything worth bragging about for McMurray or EGR as a whole. Combined with Montoya, the team logged nary a top-5 finish and only five top-10 runs in 72 total starts. Making matters worse personally, Ganassi’s chief racing rival, Roger Penske, took home his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
The 2012 season was bad. Certainly 2013 can’t get any worse, right? If it does, McMurray might be back on the free agent market, even though Ganassi has long been deeply loyal to the driver he elevated to the Cup Series. The loyalty even lasted when McMurray tried to punt the relationship by chasing Roush Fenway Racing’s money and ill-fated long contract from 2006-09. When that ride produced only two wins in four seasons — both on restrictor plate tracks — McMurray looked to be high and dry for a Sprint Cup ride until Ganassi extended an offer.
McMurray paid off the personal debt to Ganassi immediately with his surprising and tear-heavy Daytona 500 win in 2010. Incredibly, he followed the Daytona triumph later in the year with a victory at Ganassi’s favorite facility, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The head-shaking nature of McMurray’s 2012, though, has left those good times as little more than distant memories and slightly dusty trophies.
Amid the lack of success, one sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, has drastically scaled back its support of McMurray as the outdoor retailer splashes sponsorship dollars on Stewart-Haas Racing. Bass Pro will remain with McMurray for two races — it remains loyal to the driver thanks in large part to the signature wins of 2010 — and other primary sponsors McDonald’s (15 races), Banana Boat (1) and LiftMaster (1) are expected to fill some of the void. On a positive note, Cessna/Textron has signed on for 10 races in Bass Pro’s absence.
McMurray will get to experience a completely different power source in 2013 after EGR announced last October that it would be switching to Hendrick Motorsports engines this season. The move was a long time coming, as Ganassi has aired concerns about a lack of power from the Earnhardt Childress engine program, and at the very least the engine won’t be a detriment to the team. But McMurray is also behind the wheel of the new Chevrolet SS car as part of NASCAR’s body style evolution, and while he’s hopeful that the new piece suits the talents of EGR’s engineers, that department has historically lagged behind.
But one truth we learned in 2007 when the Car of Tomorrow first came into service: A new car doesn’t level the playing field. Instead, it may play into the hand of bigger teams with greater resources — not a struggling two-car operation like EGR.
Ganassi, though, has never been a guy to let his primary rival in open-wheel racing hold serve for very long. In the NASCAR sense, that means that Ganassi may be motivated to take more aggressive steps to catch up with Penske and its now-reigning championship organization.
Unfortunately, competitive desire doesn’t typically have a great effect on a loose race car in Turn 3 or a slow pit stop on lap 150. Instead, it’ll be up to McMurray and returning crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion to make the most of the new car and the new engines. After 2012, any form of improvement — heck, just a single top-5 finish — would be a good start.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
“Jamie is a very good racer when he wakes up on the right side of the bed,” one rival says. “If he comes to the track and wants to get the job done, he’ll be up on the wheel and give you a good finish even when the car isn’t capable of it. If he doesn’t feel like it when he gets to the garage, you might as well just pencil in a low 20s finish. It is a shame, because he’s a good person and a talented driver, but not being totally focused on getting the most from the car every week will keep him from ever getting to the top in the Cup Series.”
Another crew chief believes the equipment is also an issue for the Missouri native:
“In this sport it’s easy to be lost in left field and not even realize it until it’s too late. That’s what’s happened at Ganassi. If they can get the engineering stuff figured out, McMurray can win a race or two. Hell, he proved that in 2010.”
“What happened to the McMurray of 2010?” one media member asks. “Or rather, where did that guy come from? Jamie is a tough one to figure because he’s had great success, but then totally disappears for long stretches at a time.”
Looking at Checkers: The plate tracks level the playing field somewhat, as McMurray has proven in the past.
Pretty Solid Pick: His 2010 Brickyard win aside, McMurray has been competitive at IMS with four finishes between third and seventh.
Good Sleeper Pick: Curious fact: McMurray has 10 top 10s in 20 Martinsville starts, yet only one top 5. Think about that.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Not the smart fantasy play on the 1.5- and 2-milers.
Insider Tip: There is a lot of work to be done organization-wide here. McMurray can occasionally surprise, but not without help.
Click here to order the 2013 Athlon Sports Racing annual.