Chip Ganassi Gives Jamie McMurray a Second Chance: Will He Capitalize?

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer INovember 19, 2009

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 13:  Jamie McMurray, driver of the #42 Ganassi Racing Dodge with team owner Chip Ganassi, prior to the start of the Nextel Cup Pocono 500 on June 13, 2004 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

On October 6, 2002 the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was introduced to Jamie McMurray for the first time.

McMuray was brought up from the Nationwide Series to replace injured teammate Sterling Marlin after he broke two vertebrae in his neck from a wreck at Kansas.

His finished 26th in his first race in the No.40 Coors Light Dodge at Talladega, but a week later he not only formally introduced himself to the NASCAR world, he shocked it.

"He's gonna do it, 26-year-old Jamie McMurray pulls off the victory in just his second NASCAR [Winston] Cup Start!" said Alan Bestwick that night as he called McMurray to the finish line. "Unbelievable."

No driver had ever won in NASCAR history as quick as McMurray had. "I don't believe it," he said in victory lane. 

"You're not the only one pal," replied Bill Weber.

McMurray had quickly made people believe that he was going to be a fresh face in NASCAR's victory lane from that night on. 

Things were off to a great start in the McMurray-Ganassi relationship. 

Except, a lot has changed since that October night for both McMurray and Chip Ganassi.

After McMurray finished subbing for Marlin that year, he ran full-time in 2003 in the No. 42 Havoline Dodge. He didn't win a race that year, but complied 13 top ten finishes, one pole and was awarded Rookie of the Year honors.

A year later things improved.

He finished 11th in points (missed making the Chase by 15 points), with 23 top ten finishes, but still didn't visit victory lane.

However, it seemed that Chip-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates had found the future of their organization, and it wouldn't be long until the wins came.

Or not.

McMurray was released from Ganassi after the 2005 season in which he only complied 10 top ten finishes but no wins. He moved to the Roush-Fenway Fords in 2006 with Bob Osborne as crew chief.

The pair didn't find any chemistry as they finished 25th in points. 

Over the years of 2007 and 2008, McMurray only combined for 16 top tens, but he did win the July race in Daytona, it was his second career win. 

However, over those two years he also went through two more crew chiefs.

For 2009 Roush put McMurray with former crew chief Donnie Wingo, and it seemed the team was heading in the right direction. They dominated the Budweiser Shootout only to be passed on the last lap.

That has been the only bright spot of their season as they sit 22nd in points - with six top tens - and knowing that halfway through the year they were racing for their jobs.

Roush was informed they needed to trim down to four teams in 2010 and since Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle won't be going anywhere, it came down between McMurray and David Ragan.

Roush chose Ragan, leaving McMurray looking for a new ride.

After dominating the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega and picking up his third career win, rumors surfaced that he was heading for a reunion with Chip Ganassi.

Just after the race in Texas two weeks ago it was revealed that he in fact would be driving the No.1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (EGR) starting with the 2010 Daytona 500. 

An official announcement was made this morning. 

“To be able to sign a veteran driver with the talent and experience of Jamie was important to us," said Ganassi.

"We know Jamie and understand what makes him tick as a driver. We had a lot of success with Jamie in the early part of his career and are looking for more of the same. We also think he will be a tremendous compliment to Juan Pablo Montoya as well.  The duo of McMurray and Montoya creates a very formidable team as we look to continue the momentum that has been established this year in our chase for the championship.”

What this means is that the pressure is on now more than ever for the young star.

He's been given a second chance by the man that took a chance on him in 2002 and started his career.

McMurray needs to start becoming a consistent contender in the series and bring home more than one win every few years. It also wouldn't hurt if he could get back to contending for the Chase.

What McMurray does have going for him though, is equipment. 

EGR has picked up their program to contend with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, new teammate Juan Pablo Montoya made the 2009 Chase for the Championship and contended for wins. 

He'll also be driving for powerhouse Chevrolet, which is always a great choice.

Everything is working in McMurray's favor, now he needs to get it done. If not he may not get another shot with a fourth team in just the eight years he's been on the circuit. 

This is a sport that relies on winning and contending, something that McMurray needs to prove that he can do. Which may be why his deal with EGR is only a one year agreement, if 2010 doesn't produce much of anything, he'll be gone as quick as he came.

And not just gone from EGR, but from the Sprint Cup Series.

All McMurray needs to do is look at former teammate Reed Sorenson. 

Sorenson debuted in the late stages of the 2005 season with Ganassi Racing and began running full-time a year later. In his three years at Ganassi he only finished in the top ten 13 times, never won a race, and his best points position has been 22nd.

He joined Richard Petty Motorsports this year and sits 28th in points with only one top ten. He'll be leaving the company at the end of the year and has no Cup ride for next season, instead it looks as though he's headed back to the Nationwide Series.

The same place McMurray could be headed if he doesn't capitalize on the second chance that he's been given. 

"I am really excited about this opportunity with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as I think Juan Pablo and Martin have shown this season their equipment is as good as anyone’s in the garage," McMurray said. 

"I am really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of their cars and once again competing for a NASCAR championship. It will also be fun to work with some of the people that I worked with when I was there a few years ago. They have really good people there."

No one wants to say Jamie McMurray's Sprint Cup career was a one hit, actually a three hit, wonder. 


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