Daytona 500: McMurray - Media Day visit

JAMIE McMURRAY, NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the new Chase format, his memories of the Daytona 500, returning in 2011 as the defending race champion, his goals for this year, and more.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. If you're trying to make the Chase, you can ill-afford bad races. With the new format, it's even more so. You did have 14 finishes outside of the top 15.

JAMIE McMURRAY: Most of those were the first half of the season. Really from Chicago on, even on our bad days, we were still able to finish decent.

I thought I read where we would have been eighth overall the second half of the season. More than good enough to get in the Chase. If you're able to put together 10 good races, there's actually all those tracks in the Chase I really like.

Yeah, I mean, honestly I feel like we were consistent enough the second half of the year. It's just going to be about having the consistency we had the second half of the year and also having the speed we had at some of the other tracks. When you can run in the top five, you can accumulate so many points there, you've got to be able to have those races.

Q. How much of a luxury is there, if you run and you're desperate to make the Chase, the Chase depends -- it's tough to adjust to the -- how much of the regular season is really about trying to direct yourself to the big picture and not having to fret about making that Chase.

JAMIE McMURRAY: Oh, I don't really know your question there. You really drug that on.

Q. Is it difficult to acclimate to a Chase if you have to concentrate so much on getting into it?

JAMIE McMURRAY: No, because I don't think that people do anything different. I don't think there's any driver that in the middle of the race says, I'm going to do something different today other than try to win.

Maybe when it gets down to 10 laps to go and you're fighting for seventh versus eighth, you don't take a risk. But I don't think people race any differently when you're trying to get into the Chase or when you're racing for the championship. I just don't think that your mindset is different.

Q. Do you think there's a mindset of the team that is different, the people telling you what to do, the crew chief?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I don't, I don't. Might be different for everybody.

Q. Describe the memories that come back to you coming back here?

JAMIE McMURRAY: When I think about the Daytona 500, I think about my favorite picture from that. It's after I ran up and I got the flag and I ran back down the racetrack. I patted like where it said 'Daytona 500'. I remember telling someone the next day, I want to get a picture of that. That's like a memory I'll never forget.

When I come back, I see they use that picture on different advertising. For me, that's the visual I get from the Daytona 500 .

Q. What about the struggle that it was to get to Victory Lane?

JAMIE McMURRAY: It's really hard for me when they red flag the race, whether it's for rain, the issue we had with the track last year, to get back in the car and start over again. You kind of mentally prepare yourself. After the drivers meeting, you have the same schedule every single week. For me, after the drivers meeting, you go back to your bus, get something to eat, prepare yourself. I didn't know that I did anything different. But my wife informed me that I become very weird after the drivers meeting and that I don't talk (laughter). I don't do that intentionally, it just kind of happens. I'm sure it's different for everybody.

But when you have to get out of the car for rain, you have an hour break or whatever, to jump back in, it messes up everything. Last year doing that, I think we did it twice, it's hard. It's really difficult. But, you know, it is what it is.

The 500 last year, I think everybody was worn out when it was over because how long it took to run the race. I remember, I think we were running 10th on the second red flag. I remember being content to get out of Daytona being 10th in points and you start your season off great. I remember also not being a fan of having three green-white-checkereds. It ended up winning me the race.

Gosh, there's a lot of memories that come from that.

Just a long race. It's hard for me to explain to a fan or to the media, you know, the emotional side of it or the excitement that you feel because for me and for all these other drivers, from the time I was eight, this is the race you wanted to win. So you finally get here. I've raced in it for I think eight years or whatever. You haven't been able to win. Then all of a sudden you win this, it's the biggest race of your life. It's a feeling that you can't explain.

Q. What was the greatest thing about winning that race? How neat was it to be with Dario the day after?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I remember them telling me, after Dario won, before the Coke 600 started, they said, We'd like for you to go to Indy tomorrow. That was at 3:00 in the afternoon, 4:00 in the afternoon. I was like, Do you not realize this race gets over at 11:00 at night? Then by the time it's over, we're going to leave at 6 a.m.? There's no way we can do that.

Dario ended up winning the race and we ran second at the Charlotte race. I remember telling my wife, I'm going to go up there. This might be something that might not ever happen again, for me for sure. I'm going to go do this.

So it was really cool. Chip is one of those guys that has everything. You know, I mean, he's been very successful in life. It's hard to surprise him. And I remember seeing him when I showed up. I looked at him. He was genuinely surprised. He had no idea. We showed up up there. All the PR people that set that up at the shop didn't tell him.

I remember showing up and seeing the look on his face and knowing that that was a sincere, I'm excited. I think we hugged or something, he was so excited. He still thanks me.

We go out to eat dinner. We'll talk about the picture. He'll thank me for being there that day. That was a really special moment.

Q. How does it feel coming back here now being the defending champion?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, it's exciting because you guys all want to talk about it. It's a different vibe than a year ago, the questions that you ask.

But, you know, it's going to be a lot different this year. The Daytona 500, the plate races, man, it's not like you show up on Friday and you sit on the pole and that's the guy to beat. If they don't mess this up, that's the car to beat.

The Daytona 500 can be won in the last hundred yards. It's such a unique race. With the fact that the track has been repaved, there's going to be a little bit of a learning curve I think for all the drivers to figure out where they need to be, if you want to be in second on the last lap coming to the start/finish line, if you want to be in first. The Shootout is going to be really important. The 150 is going to be important to set yourself up to be in the right position.

As excited as I am to come back here winning the race last year, there's so many new things that go with this race, so many unknowns, you just don't know.

Q. After all your successes last year, how do you qualify success for 2011?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I think winning races again. I mean, that's the thing. When we show up for the races, you don't show up and say, I hope I finish eighth every week so I can make the Chase. You show up every single week to outrun everybody. You show up on Friday to sit on the pole and you come on Sunday so you can win the race. I think it's about being a contender to win races.

It's funny. I look back at all those races we won last year, but all I think about are the seconds we had. Talladega losing by, you know, a foot, or Bristol. I look back at some of those races and, Man, we could have won six or seven races last year.

This year it's about being able to do that same thing. Just because we had fast cars last year and the stuff we did last year doesn't mean it will work this year. It's about these first few races. Last year for us we found two or three things at the beginning of the year that really worked, that's really good. We kept applying that to different tracks, and it worked out really well for us.

But this year you've got to find those next two or three things that give you that advantage over those other guys. That's the thing I'm worried about right now, is finding that speed again.

Q. The second half really clicked. How do you keep that going? How do you click from the very beginning here at Daytona going on?

JAMIE McMURRAY: The good thing for our team is there was no turnover at all. Even everybody at the shop is exactly the same. You know, last year, that was probably the biggest unknown is I didn't know Bono, I didn't know anyone on the team. It's funny, because I knew 90% of the people that worked at Ganassi. The 10% I didn't know were the ones on the 1 team. It's really weird. I've been there before. It was all the same people, except the 1 team, it was all new. So you just don't know when you show up how that's going to work.

But, you know, when you look historically at our sport, the guys that ended the season well always start the year off running good. There might be a couple surprises, like us maybe last year, that show up. But, I mean, you know, gosh, everything should be fine to start the year. But it's going to be about finding those two or three things that will make a difference as the season goes on.

Q. Looking at the season as a whole with the success you had, the lackluster problems you had with Roush, did last year vindicate you in your own mind that you still could win?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I think that any driver would be lying if they told you that they had not ever doubted their ability. I think that's true for any athlete. If you go through unsuccessful years, you begin to wonder, you know, Has it changed so much now that this just isn't for me?

But I think really for me, last year, I don't know that it validated that I can do it as much as I think it shows that when you get in the right situation, when you make it to this level, that there are 35 guys that, if given the right situation and the right car on the right day, they can win. I mean, in order to make it to the level, you've got to be really good. I won't say everyone, but the majority that are in Sprint Cup are really talented drivers.

It's about getting with the right crew chief, the right owner, the right cars, the setups. The setups we run now are so much different than what we ran four or five years ago, you have to hope that that suits what you like.

I think what they did for me last year, and what wasn't done at Roush, is that they built the cars around the driver. You know, Juan, if I had to run the cars that Juan is running, not the cars, but the setups, I would have ran very similar to how I did at Roush. But they didn't make me do that. It was about, We're going to develop what's good for you, and it made a big difference.

Q. A lot of cookie cutter setups they had at Roush when you were there?

JAMIE McMURRAY: No. The thing at Roush is that you'd get crucified if you got too far out of the box, the setup, you know. And it just doesn't work for everybody. I remember in '08 when Carl had won like nine races or eight races, it was whatever they run is what you need to make work. If he can make it work, then everybody needs to make it work.

It just wasn't the case. It just doesn't work that way.

Q. How motivating or pressure-inducing is it to be in an organization that's been so successful in so many different series? What is that camaraderie like among that group of successful drivers?

JAMIE McMURRAY: You know, Chip's organization is pretty unique. Penske is the only other organization that races in all those different series. For me and Juan to get to come down here and share the car with Dario, Scott, the other team with Pruett and everybody, you know, it's interesting to come down. You all work for the same guy, but you're all doing different stuff.

Honestly, the best part of that is to have them talk about watching one of the races you won or vice versa. You know, when you come down here for that race, everyone's relaxed. Even though we're competing against the other Ganassi team, it's not like our full-time job, so it's fun. Serious, but it's still fun. It's a little more laid back. Everyone just is at ease.

It's really cool every year that Chip has a dinner where he takes out all the drivers. You all sit around a big table. The conversations that are talked about and the stories, it's priceless. It's good stuff.

Q. Did it happen before the Rolex?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I think we do it for the test is when we do it. The first night we all go out. We did it two years ago and then this year.

You know, I mean, for me, you sit at that table and you look at how many races have been won, the champions at that table, it's just crazy that you're all together, you all want to be together.

You know, I don't know, you look at what Chip did or has done in his career, especially what he did last year, it's remarkable he's been able to put together that many different race teams.

Q. Did you feel like you had earned a seat at that table?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, it was definitely a little bit different this year. It's weird. I mean, you don't really feel any different until you get in situations like that and you look at what Dario's won or Scott or Montoya and those guys. You've won two of the biggest races in your sport. Yeah, it's definitely a different vibe.

Q. Do you feel like you were rewarded for winning the two biggest races? It didn't vault you into the Chase.

JAMIE McMURRAY: I didn't feel that way. I know that the media has really made a big deal about us not making the Chase last year. But I don't know, I mean, I want to make the Chase this year. I want to make the Chase because I won races and I'm a legitimate threat to fight for a championship, not just we top 10'd them to death. Well, he's in the Chase, but he has no chance of winning.

There were guys last year that were in the Chase that you guys know, you're like, That guy has no chance of winning the championship. To me, that's not what it's about, just making that, it's about being a legitimate contender.

Q. What was your reaction when they restructured the points?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I thought they were a year late, that's what I thought (laughter). I thought they were a year late.

I don't know. I've kind of been that guy that missed the Chase by 5 points one year and 20 one year. This year they say, We would have put you in last year if we had these rules. I got to be that guy, the example.

But they make the rules at the beginning of the year. It's the same for everybody. It's not like they make exceptions throughout the season or change it.

I don't know. Honestly, I don't pay a lot of attention to all that. I don't know. I am probably the best guy in the garage at not feeling like everybody's out to get him. I feel like most drivers feel like everyone's out to get them. No matter what the decision is, that was all against me. I don't ever feel that way.

Q. If you have a choice of having a year like last year...

<pre> JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, I'll have a year like last year, absolutely . 100%, right now, sign me up . </pre>

Q. Which is the one you wish you really got?

JAMIE McMURRAY: The 600, because we had the fastest car at the end. And the way the cautions fell, the way it worked out, that would have been cool.

Probably Bristol is another one. We took the lead with 100 laps or 50 laps to go. The car just wasn't good enough at the end to win. But Bristol would be a really cool place to win at with the fans. I really would like to get to be the guy that drives on top of the media center. To get out and hear that many people react, that's fun. That's a feeling like no other. That would be really cool.

Q. The points question, does it concern you that there's a stronger penalty now for finishing lower?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I'm not going to lie, I have not paid much attention to the points because you're not going to do anything any different in the car than what you would, no matter how the points are structured. The only way it would be different is if you only got points for the top 10 positions and you were running 11th, you might race differently then or something. But you're not going to do anything different as a driver.

But I think that the points system, my only thought on this is the way it is structured, it will probably favor some guys. There are certain drivers that are able to always make a bad day 15th place, where the other guy takes his bad day and makes it 25th. That's going to really favor certain guys.

Q. People were struck by your heartfelt expression of emotion. Where did that emotion kind of spring from? If you were to win it the second time...

JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, it wouldn't be the same, no. I mean, I thought about that, honestly. The fact is, no one wants to go in the media center and cry. You want to go in there, you want to answer the questions, you want to be sincere, you want everyone to know how much you appreciate it. But no grown man wants to sit in front of 50 people and break down. I mean, no one wants that. No one wants that, for sure.

If I won the Daytona 500 this year, that would not happen in the media center, I don't think. And the reason being is that I was able to win three races last year. The feeling that comes from winning a race when you haven't won one in a while is overwhelming. Then when you take the situation where the position I was in last year, it's just different, you know. And then it's the Daytona 500. I'm not going to name the other race, because I don't want anyone to think it's less important, but this is the most important race of the year.

You get in there and, yeah, I mean, I'm already kind of an emotional guy. Then when you add in all the circumstances, it was just unique. It will never be like that again for me. You know, it will be emotional I'm sure at some point because every race might have a different meaning to me. But that was unique, for sure.

Q. Shows how meaningful the quest was.

JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, and it was. I mean, it was, because I broke down about three different times. Honestly, when I talk about it, it's still really hard not to because I think back to that day. You know, people ask me what I was feeling, and you can't explain what you're feeling, you just know it, you know. And so, yeah, that was a really special day for sure.

Q. Is your dad going to stay for the whole race this year?

JAMIE McMURRAY: My dad's coming this year and he's flying home with me so he can't leave early. You know what, it really sucks that my dad left, but it made for a great story.

It's funny. The Daytona 500 ring is really big. I don't know if you've seen it, but it resembles like a Super Bowl ring. And a Super Bowl ring on a nine-foot tall man that's a center does not look big. On a 5'8" guy, it looks really big, right? We bought everybody at the shop a ring. My dad still wears that ring every single day.

He told me a story. He never takes it off. He said he took it off the other night. And he said he was laying in bed at 2 a.m. He said, I freaked out because I could tell it wasn't on my hand. I got paranoid what happened to it.

I thought it was really cool my dad was here for the race, then he left. He appreciates that ring more than anybody else. It's funny because I'm a dad now, so I know I'm going to be like my dad, proud of my son and everything. He wears that. Everybody says, I saw your dad and he showed me that ring. Everywhere he goes, it's great.

-source: team chevy

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup