By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – Saturday night wasn’t the first time @JamieMcMurray delivered Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates something new.
The Joplin, Missouri native has been around a while. His team owners even longer, but until they all came together did any of them really earn a spot on the map. With a win in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night, the trio has now won three of NASCAR’s major events.
“He said to me in victory lane tonight, he said, we’ve won a lot of great races together, haven’t we. I said, yes, we have,” a philosophical and methodical looking Ganassi revealed. A man never lost for words or lacking in emotion seemed almost lost in the weight of the 13-year battle they’ve both forged through.
“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. I think your media brethren miss a lot of times what it really takes to be in this sport week in and week out, with a family, with the demands that are put on these athletes in any top-level sport.”
The story of McMurray skyrocketing to NASCAR stardom is one rarely ever written. In 2002, he became a super substitute for injured teammate Sterling Marlin and won in just his second start. The success started that night at Charlotte and in a way, came back around Saturday with the emotion by all involved the same it was when a nervous young kid climbed out in victory lane to everyone quickly knowing his name. Frugal isn’t the word for McMurray, the soon-to-be father of three is downright paranoid about money, so being handed a check for on million dollars left him bug-eyed and speechless.
Reminiscent of the moments that had come before when McMurray won the 2010 Daytona 500 and the 2010 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Both were not only the first for him but the first for his team owners. A Chase spot and a championship continue to linger on the list, as does an impending expiring contract that a million dollars easily makes a distant memory and suddenly insignificant. After all, they’ve been down this road before, each taking different paths yet still winding up in the same place.
“The thing about Chip with me is he’s my car owner, but since I came back in 2010 Chip is one of my best friends. 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,” McMurray said, who now has won three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was so excited that he was here tonight.”
In 2006 McMurray and Ganassi split as the driver headed for the franchise of Roush Fenway Racing and Fords, where he won, though any celebration there just wasn’t the same as a Ganassi one. The connection between McMurray and any car owner will never be what he and Ganassi have. The victory hugs mean just a little bit more and the kisses, those from the Bricks to others, are something no outsider will ever understand.
“It 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.”
A well traveled and racing weathered soul Ganassi held a watchful eye over his IndyCar machines earlier in the day for Indianapolis 500 qualifying. An uncharacteristic day might have dampened many spirits; Ganassi charged on to Charlotte to the surprise and pleasure of McMurray, who immediately brighten at the sight of his boss in the hauler after a disappointing qualifying effort.
“After the race that’s one of the first things I thought of,” McMurray said, “was I’m so glad that Chip and Felix are here and I get to share this with them because they were in Daytona, thy were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.”
Ganassi took a few moments to enjoy the spoils of a winning car owner, though the night was for his driver. Before stepping aside, he leaned down and grabbed McMurray around the neck and kissed him, like two brothers who know nothing more than to feel each other’s successes and failures.
To them it was nothing and back to business each went as McMurray continued to replay his magical night for anyone who would listen. And the man he once again was standing beside when the accolades were handed down.
“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,” he said. “He did a book a while back about 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 (victory lane) 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, and it’s a great relationship, and I feel so blessed to get to share that with he and Felix.”
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