In the fall of 2009, Jamie McMurray seemed to be on the outside looking in when it came to the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Roush-Fenway Racing had to shrink their number of cars down to four, and the decision came down to close the 26 team's shop. That left McMurray rideless and wondering what was next.
At the same time over at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Owner Chip Ganassi was looking for someone to replace Martin Truex, Jr. who was leaving for Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the year.
We all remember the 2002 season, when Sterling Marlin, who at the time was driving for Chip Ganassi, was in contention to win the Championship when he was injured in an accident at Kansas Speedway and was forced to miss the remainder of the season.
Who did Ganassi call to fill in Marlin's seat? Jamie McMurray. McMurray won his first career race in only his second start at Lowes Motor Speedway.
Fast forward to 2009, and once again Ganassi called upon McMurray to fill a seat. This time, however, it did not come without it's share of controversy. The primary sponsor for the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Bass Pro Shops, didn't believe that McMurray was fit to hold the sponsorship because unlike Earnhardt and Truex who held the sponsorship before him, he wasn't an avid hunter or fisher.
In the end, Bass Pro Shops decided to stay on, and Ganassi's reunion with McMurray was complete.
For this new season, there seemed to be some big electricity amongst the drivers coming into Daytona. NASCAR was finally returning to it's roots by letting the drivers "Have at it" and returning the start times to what most fans of the sport were used to.
As the race began, the new rules package for the cars did exactly what it was supposed to do, and kept the cars in packs until the first pit stops when the field was scattered. Except for the wreck involving Sam Hornish, Regan Smith, and Brad Keselowski, and spins by Mike Bliss, Joe Nemechek, and John Andretti, the race stayed relatively clean until lap 122, when the race was stopped for a patch of the track coming up.
Four-time defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson had this to say over his radio after one of his tires had been damaged by the hole: "Looks like we may have a hole, we may have a red flag here. Looks like a big piece of the track came up."
And with that, the race was stopped. Drivers took this opportunity to take power naps, eat sandwiches, and in Mark Martin's case, eat four protein bars. After almost and hour and 45 minutes, the race finally went back to green, with conditions changing, and the threat of the race finishing under the lights. Crews made changes to the cars to make them better for the cooler temperatures.
With about 50 laps to go, the race was stopped again, as the patch began to work its way up. After a 46 minute delay the cars were re-fired, and it was time to get down to business. The drivers no longer cared about the condition of the track, they just wanted to finish the race.
As it was earlier in the race, Kevin Harvick's car seemed to be unstoppable. His teammate Clint Bowyer had an equally stronger car. A debris caution set up a 20 lap dash to the finish.
One of the questions coming into the race was would the new green-white-checker rule come into play. As the race came to it's conclusion with three laps to go, Kasey Kahne was involved in a wreck due to the cars in front of him stacking up and Jeff Gordon giving him a slight nudge that turned him around and collected Robert Richardson. That set up the final dash to the finish.
On the restart, McMurray took the lead from Kevin Harvick with a good push from Greg Biffle. On the last lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr made a move down the backstretch in which he split the the cars of Biffle and Bowyer and looked to set up McMurray for a pass near the finish line, but it was too late as McMurray had crossed the line and won the biggest prize in all of stock car racing.
When McMurray arrived in Victory Lane, he noticed that one man wasn't there; his father. Jim McMurray left the track during one of the two red flags because he had ridden his motorcycle to the track, and realized that the race would end under the lights and did not want to ride his bike on the interstate alone at night.
But one person that was there in Victory Lane was his wife, Christy. As he tried to find the words to describe how he was feeling, everyone that was there or watching at home knew the words were coming from the tears in his eyes.
McMurray's name now rests in Daytona 500 lore next to names like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. Wherever he goes for the rest of his life he will be known as the 2010 Daytona 500 champion.
It is a coincidence that this year's Daytona 500 fell on Valentine's Day, for Jamie McMurray and car owner Chip Ganassi are a match made in heaven.
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