Category archive: Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurrayJason Smith/Getty ImagesJamie McMurray may well be celebrating after the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 again in 2011, but if he does, you can bet he makes the Chase this time.

Some things are going to change for NASCAR in 2011. Things you saw in 2010 will not repeat next season.

Did anyone really think we would see Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton do their weak Ali-Frazier impression on the track at Texas?

That's one example of things you won't see again in 2011, at least not from those two unlikely combatants. Here's a list of other things that took place in 2010, but aren't happening in 2011:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing 21st in the Cup standings: Junior will crack the top 20 next season and possibly contend for the Chase, which won't be too tough if the playoff is expanded to 15 drivers.

Steve Letarte on the pit box and moving to the No. 48 shop will make Earnhardt competitive again.

A driver winning both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 without making the Chase: That bizarre quirk happened for Jamie McMurray in 2010, but Halley's Comet will make another pass by Earth before that scenario comes around a second time.

Roush Fenway Racing failing to contend for the Cup title: RFR put three drivers in the 2010 Chase, but never seriously contended for the championship and didn't win a race until August.

It was clear by the end of the season that Jack's boys had figured things out and the new Ford engine was strong. Carl Edwards won the last two races and teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth will join him as title contenders in 2011.

The blindingly ugly front splitter: Like a teenager finally getting the steel removed from his mouth, the braces on the splitter will be gone and the overall look for the front of the cars becomes much smoother and more stylish.

Jeff Gordon going winless for a season: Not with Alan Gustafson calling the shots. Gordon will return to Victory Lane in 2011 and seriously contend for a fifth championship.

A full-time Cup driver winning the Nationwide title: Not officially, anyway. A real Nationwide driver will win it in 2011 because of rules changes coming soon that will keep the Cup big boys from racing for the crown in Nationwide.

However, Edwards or Brad Keselowski still could win the most races and unofficially tally the most points if they run all the Nationwide races as planned.

And a former Cup regular could win the title if Elliott Sadler gets it done while racing full-time in Kevin Harvick's Nationwide car.

A pothole during the Daytona 500: Daytona has shiny new pavement that will be smooth as glass. Drivers will get a first test next week, but the new asphalt could make a big difference in how things look for restrictor-plate wildness in the season-opener on the 2.5-mile oval.

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Bobby Labonte
Rusty Jarrett/NASCAR/Getty ImagesThere will be better days ahead for Bobby Labonte.

Bobby Labonte having to start and park: It was sad watching the former Cup champion forced to sometimes make meaningless laps and go to the garage. But he'll have a real ride in 2011 and a chance for some decent finishes with the No. 47 Toyota for JTG/Daugherty Racing.

Richard Petty Motorsports trying to survive week to week: After the financial crash of George Gillett's empire, Petty managed to regain control of the team by finding new investors and placing RPM on solid footing in what will be a new-and-improved two-car operation with A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

Two Cup races at Fontana: Auto Club Speedway has one Cup race next year, which comes in March. Hopefully, most of the seats will be filled for the first time in a long time.

The Chase opener in New Hampshire: The playoff starts at Chicagoland Speedway in 2011, adding another 1.5-mile oval to the Chase.

A Sunday afternoon race at Texas in April: For the first time, the spring Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway will be a Saturday night show.

Jimmie Johnson winning the Cup championship: Five-Time won't become Six-Time in 2011. Too many other teams and drivers are nipping at his heels now. No one stays on top forever, although it's hard to remember the last time someone besides JJ won this thing.

FONTANA, Calif. -- If you didn't know about this Sprint Cup race changing from 500 miles to 400 miles, don't feel bad. Some of the drivers didn't know until they arrived at Auto Club Speedway.

Ryan Newman was caught off guard when asked Friday if his strategy would change for the shorter Pepsi Max 400.

"Is it? Is it a 400?" Newman asked. "Awesome."

Carl Edwards also didn't know, but he didn't think it was awesome.

"I can't believe I didn't know this was a 400-mile race," Edwards said Friday. "I work really hard to be as fit as I can be. We work hard to be prepared for long races. I feel that long races play into my strengths physically, and then I feel that from a handling standpoint and the way the car drives."

Don't classify Sunday's race as a short one. It's 200 laps around the giant 2-mile oval at the Inland Empire track with temperatures expected at 90 degrees.

"This racetrack just seems like one of the hottest we go to sometimes,'' Edwards said. "When the sun is out here, there is no escaping the heat. The hotter and slicker it is suits me and our team."

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Ryan Newman
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesRyan Newman was thrilled to learn Sunday's Cup race is 400 miles long.

Edwards has six top-5s at ACS, but his one victory came in cool conditions in a February race in 2008.

Jamie McMurray, who starts on the pole for the second consecutive time at ACS, said the wide surface has plenty of racing room, but it can be tricky.

"The trick to this place is the seams," he said. "It's really hard to explain, but when the car gets in the seams it feels like water and it's really slick. When you get stuck in them, you can't get out.

"It's almost like you're in a slot and you have to wait till you get to the straightaway to get your car off of it. It will slow your car down a half-second a lap if you get stuck in one of them real bad."

McMurray is talking about the tar that fills the grooves betweens the lanes of the racing surface.

"The key to this place is having a car you can drive across the seams and not get stuck in them," McMurray said. "The cars that handle well can miss the seams and they're faster. The guys whose cars are sliding around a bit more tend to find them."

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy team obviously have figured it out. He has won three of the last four races at ACS. Will 100 fewer miles make a difference for him?

"I think that the race distance at 400 miles is probably better for everyone," said Johnson, who starts ninth Sunday. "I don't have a lot of fears at this track because there's so much room. There are lanes you can use to pass."

Sunday will be the first time at ACS the Cup teams have raced a car with the rear spoiler instead of the wing.

"We've had so much time now with [the spoiler] that we pretty much have a feel for it," Kyle Busch said Friday. "It will be different than what it was in the spring, but our setups have evolved so much from when we were here the last time."

The fall event becomes extinct after Sunday. ACS will lose one of its two Cup events next year. The lone Cup event will take place on March 27. No more Chase races for ACS.

"Obviously, the attendance here hasn't been what everyone hoped it would be," Jeff Burton said Friday. "I think it is a good area for us and being on the West Coast is a good thing.

"I believe we have a lot of race fans out here. I also know the economy around the area is really bad. That has hurt the racetrack a lot. It's hard to say taking a race away is a good thing, but sometimes it is. You end up getting out more people for one race than you had for two races."

Whatever the crowd is Sunday, Johnson said he thinks they could see the best show ever at ACS.

"As a California native, I'm disappointed to hear that it's losing an event,'' Johnson said. "But the 400-mile race should make it more exciting, and restarts here can get pretty wild. It will entertain the viewers on television and the people in the stands. I think it'll be a good race."

FONTANA, Calif. -- "There's no crying in baseball," as we all know from Tom Hanks' famous movie line, but crying is OK in NASCAR.

That's what the drivers say about Jamie McMurray's tearful moment after winning the Daytona 500 last week.

"You guys constantly ask us what it would mean to win the Daytona 500," said Tony Stewart, who still is trying to achieve that goal. "What I saw in Jamie is pretty much how we all would feel.

"His reaction after the race said it all. And it's nice to see somebody like him win it. Jamie is one of those genuinely nice guys. He's always smiling and he's always fun and good-natured around everybody."

And McMurray showed all the emotions after the Daytona 500, a moving moment that illustrated how much his life had turned around.

"That was just Jamie being Jamie," Jeff Burton said Friday. "Matt Kenseth [the 2009 Daytona 500 winner] cried in Victory Lane last year, too, and he's a robot."

Kevin Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, knows no one can act like a robot after winning the Daytona 500.

"This is an emotional sport," Harvick said Friday. "Put yourself in Jamie's shoes. He went to the Daytona 500 trying to prove he should be in Cup racing, and he won it. That's pretty emotional."

And Harvick is a guy who once jokingly said he didn't want Hillary Clinton to become president because "I don't want my president to cry."

Other than Mark Martin, still waiting to win a Daytona 500 after 26 tries, you couldn't find a more popular winner than McMurray.

Other drivers like it when one of their fellow competitors overcomes adversity. The reason is obvious. If they're ever in the same position, they hope they will have the same outcome.

And they all know McMurray's career changed dramatically one week ago.

"Jamie was really nervous about what his future held," Burton said. "When I talked to him a few months ago he didn't know if he would have a job. Now look at him."

He's the Daytona 500 winner who starts on the pole Sunday for the Auto Club 500.

"It's been wonderful, honestly, the best week of my life," McMurray said Friday. "Well, next to my wedding day, but this is a close second."

Harvick had some words of wisdom for McMurray before he started his celebration week.

"The only thing I said to him is enjoy it and take it all in," Harvick said. "It all goes away after this week, but it's something they can't take away from you no matter how good or bad your season is."

Juan Pablo Montoya, McMurray's teammate at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, put things in perspective on how meaningful the victory was for McMurray and the No. 1 Chevy team.

"I would love to win it," Montoya said. "But if you asked which team needed it more, the 1 car or the 42 [Montoya's car], it was the 1 car. For Jamie, the sponsors, everybody, it was huge."

All those things ran through McMurray's mind while he stood in Victory Lane, going from the odd man out at Roush Fenway Racing to the winner of NASCAR's Super Bowl.

And the tears flowed. Some people criticized him for it. I would have criticized him if he didn't cry.