It was the joke of February Speedweeks.
Jamie McMurray’s back bumper of his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet read, “Kiss My Bass.”
By the end of Speedweeks McMurray was the one laughing.
In his eighth start in the Great American Race, McMurray charged to the front and held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his fourth career win.
The win, the biggest in his career, was also the first with his new Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team.
With one win McMurray became the face of the organization, and one of the many faces of NASCAR.
One win, that’s what the Daytona 500 represents, permanently put McMurray on the map. Something that he hadn’t been able to do in the previous seven years he’d been in the sport.
He’s quieting his critics one by one, that he can get the job done.
Since the Daytona 500, McMurray has continued to make his presence known on what later might be considered his comeback tour. He added a pole at California, three top 10s, and two top fives, including a second at Talladega after coming within just yards of another win.
Kiss his bass indeed.
If you spot McMurray in the garage he’s bound to have a smile on his face. It’s been there from the first day he started racing but its now brighter than ever.
He’s gone from the bottom of the totem pole at Roush-Fenway Racing, not to say he was treated poorly but RFR was more of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle thought of organization, to that of a closer family.
He loves the atmosphere at the shop and says he talks to Chip Ganassi more than he ever did with Jack Roush. It could be because he knows what Ganassi has done for him, not only bringing him into the Sprint Cup Series back in 2002 when Sterling Marlin was hurt, but full-time in 2003.
And of course, Ganassi welcomed McMurray back with open arms and plenty resources.
While that only happened because RFR had to downsize, it may have been a blessing in disguise. He won the Daytona 500 and is a perfect fit with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya as the two attempt to bring EGR to the forefront of the NASCAR contending teams each weekend.
You’d think it’d be easy to express how much things have changed, from not knowing if he was going to have a job to winning Daytona.
“I think it's hard for me to explain the differences emotionally," said McMurray. "The way I felt a year ago and the way I feel right now.”
If that wasn’t enough, life continued to get better.
After beating Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500, he got a call from him in April. He needed someone to drive his No. 88 JR Motorsports car in the Nationwide Series after Kelly Bires was released.
Forget the fact that it was the NNS or that McMurray is already friends with him, to get a call from NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver who wants to offer you a job is always a shot in the arm.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve raced in the Nationwide Series,” McMurray said at the time. “But, how can you pass up an opportunity to have Dale Jr. as a boss?”
It also means that McMurray can put on his resume that he’s driven for two Earnhardts: Teresa at EGR and now Dale Jr. at JRM. Life can’t get better for the 33-year old.
“I guess really all I can tell you is just that the people that are around me every day, the people that have been around me for the last four or five years, I don't really feel any different, but all those people keep telling me how happy I act,” McMurray said today.
“How much more laid back I act than what I did a year or so ago. That's not something you plan to do or you can do intentionally. It just kind of happens.”
Climbing aboard on Saturday’s has helped McMurray pick up where he leads off the Sunday before. At Texas, the first time behind the No. 88, he drove it to a sixth place finish, a week later in Talladega and just hours after his second place finish, he got behind the wheel and was once again one lap away from the win.
By the time the leaders hit turn three he was fighting for the lead, but ended up in the fence.
Don’t think everyone didn’t know he was there.
Friday night at Richmond his finished third, Saturday night he was a little further back in 19th but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He’s currently 17th in points, but knows he has a team that’s way capable and better than that.
It’s clear that McMurray has finally found a home, found his second wind and more confidence to speak up. His No. 1 car is becoming one to deal with every week and it’s getting used to being up front.
With his new found sense of success McMurray’s posed to make his first career Chase. It won’t come easy since he’s currently 109 points from 12th, but there are still 16 races left till the Chase begins.
Anything can happen in 16 races, but for right now it’s about taking things one at a time and enjoying life.
“I think a lot of it has to do with feeling more at home, feeling more relaxed," said McMurray. "I've just run a lot better also. Performance-wise maybe the finishes haven't been way better, but on-track performance has been a lot better than my time at Roush. I think that just makes you be more laid back in general.”
Who wouldn’t want to be Jamie McMurray right now?