Revving his career back up

McMurray, who won his 2nd start, is comfortable with move to Roush

May 10, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Jamie McMurray was one of the NASCAR drivers who had a cameo in 2005's Herbie: Fully Loaded and is among the fresh faces in Gillette's Young Guns promotion.

What the newest member of Roush Racing would like to be recognized for is winning a Nextel Cup race - again.

McMurray was in Baltimore yesterday, thumping the tub for the coming race weekend at Dover International Speedway. The June 4 Neighborhood Excel-lence 400 will come the day after he turns 30, and McMurray said he knows his lone Cup success is also growing old.

In October 2002, a fractured vertebra for Sterling Marlin turned into McMurray's big break. Team owner Chip Ganassi filled the vacancy with McMurray, who won the UAW-GM Quality 500 in his second start. He was the least experienced Cup winner in the modern era, which NASCAR marks from 1972 on.

"The car had already won a couple of races, and that team was a winner," McMurray said. "Our sport is team-oriented. You don't realize that until you don't have that team."

Those issues have been magnified this year.

First, McMurray left Ganassi to join Roush Racing, where teammates Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin stand 3-4 in the Cup point standings, behind three-time winner Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Another shake-up came last month, after one of Roush's Busch Series crew chiefs was suspended. Roush moved McMurray's crew chief to the Busch Series and replaced him with Bob Osborne, who had helped Carl Edwards nearly win a 2005 points title.

In his second race with Osborne, McMurray had a season-best fifth at the rain-delayed Aaron's 499 at Talladega May 1. Last weekend in Richmond, at the Crown Royal 400, he liked what he heard on his headset.

"I made an unreal save on the backstretch," McMurray said of some tire-smoking work with his Ford that avoided a crash. "I told myself, `Oh, my God, I can't believe I saved that.' The spotter comes on, `Good save.' Things like that make you feel good.

"When I won [in 2002], Ganassi was on top," McMurray said. "Last year, we really didn't have a shot to win a race. You make a move to Roush Racing, every week it seems one of their cars has a shot to win. I don't mean to slam anyone, but the teammates I have this year all won races last year. You go get their opinion on how a car is set up, you have more faith in it, because you know they're going to have success at some point."

McMurray, who has three top 10 finishes this season and stands 17th in the points race, said he's Roush's only Nextel Cup driver who doesn't pilot his own jet. His has logged considerable miles this week, as McMurray mixed his Baltimore stop between Busch tests Monday and last night at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., where NASCAR will stop Memorial Day weekend.

It's the same track where he got his lone Nextel Cup win.

A native of Joplin, Mo., McMurray got his start in go-karts. His skill earned him a trip to Moscow in 1989, when the Soviet Union was starting to crumble, and gave him a rare perspective.

"We stayed in a sports complex with the Russian kids," McMurray said. "Some of the food they gave us spoiled. I didn't want to eat, but the Russian kids ate everything they could. Compared to those kids, we had it made. I'm in the highest tax bracket. We're always complaining that our taxes are too high and you hate writing those checks, but I've seen the other side, and this one's not that bad."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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