Daytona 500: Winning team press conference, part 1

Daytona 500 Post-Race News Conference February 14, 2010 An interview with JAMIE McMURRAY - Winner KEVIN MANION - Crew chief CHIP GANASSI - Co-owner FELIX SABATES - Co-owner Now for the main event, we are pleased to be joined by the ...

Daytona 500 Post-Race News Conference
February 14, 2010

An interview with
KEVIN MANION - Crew chief

Now for the main event, we are pleased to be joined by the 2010 Daytona 500 championship team: Driver Jamie McMurray, his crew chief Kevin Manion, team owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates.

Jamie McMurray, how does it feel to win the Daytona 500?

JAMIE McMURRAY: It's unbelievable. I can't really put it into words the way it feels. I talked to my wife this morning. She was like, you know, What would it mean to you if you won this race today?

I told her it would be like a dream come true. I'm trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliche. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500.

I won the July race here, really close race with Kyle. Coming off of turn four, seeing the checkered flag, knowing there's not going to be another 'green-white-checkered', you're going to be the Daytona 500 champion, I can't explain to you. It's very emotional. I don't know that I've cried like that. I've kept trying to compose myself. I couldn't get it back.

It just means so much. You know, for me to be in the position that I was four or five months ago, to have Chip and Felix and Bass Pro Shops welcome me into their organization, it means a lot. It's a great way for me to be able to pay those guys back.

Crew chief Kevin Manion, how does it feel to win the Daytona 500 from your perspective?

KEVIN MANION: It means an awful lot. This is one of only a few wins I hope this year. Being a two-time winner, this, for sure -- I told the guys in the team meeting today, this one you will never forget if we have the opportunity to win this. The rest of your life, you will never forget a win at Daytona, and especially the Daytona 500.

Chip Ganassi, how does it feel?

CHIP GANASSI: Unbelievable. You hear all the time, these athletes saying when they win big things, It didn't really sink in yet, maybe it will sink in tomorrow. I know exactly how they feel right now.

Like Jamie said, from a little boy, you think about -- I think back to how I got started in racing, whether it's with little cars, go-karts, slot cars, then obviously driving, the IndyCar successes we've had, sports car successes. There was always some question about, Is our NASCAR team up to the task?

You know, putting a car in the Chase last year sort of, I think, validated the way we run the business. Hopefully this tonight did that, as well.

I'm just happy for the whole team. I'm happy for all the partners. I'm happy for Felix and Teresa, happy for every single person that's ever been a part of this team. They can take some stock in this win. It's really important. I'm really honored to be sitting up here representing all those people and all those teams of people.

Felix, you always have something to say, how does it feel?

FELIX SABATES: I've been trying for almost 25 years to find Victory Lane on the 500. Been a few times with Chip on the Rolex Series, Nationwide Series, but, like Chip said, it hasn't sunk into me yet. I got this big ring. This was a helluva nice Valentine's Day present, Jamie, to us. He said today, I love you, brother. He must have loved me because it's Valentine's Day.

I mean, I don't get lost for words very often, but I'm lost for words tonight.

We'll take questions for the No. 1 team.

Q: Jamie, based on what you went through last year, the fight it took to get back with Chip, to be in the position, can you take us through the last shootout, you think you have it locked up and you see the 88 in your rearview mirror?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, when Greg pushed me to the lead going into turn three, we got checked out a ways. I thought there were two or three in a line. Typically when you get two or three in a line, if the guys are running two-wide behind you, you can gap them. I knew we were going to have to run another lap or two, and it was going to be over. Greg got a huge run down the frontstretch. He got by me. I don't remember exactly everything that happened between the start/finish line for the white, then coming to the checkered.

But, you know, I got a big run down the backstretch again. I looked in my mirror and saw the 88. I'll be honest, I was like, Crap, this guy has won a lot of races here. His family has an incredible history here.

You know, I believe everything happens for a reason. I just was like, I hope this isn't his turn to win the Daytona 500, I hope this is mine.

You can't tell when you look out of the back of the car how fast they're closing. You can't tell the rate they're closing. I was looking at the start/finish line, my mirror, the start/finish line, thinking, I don't think he's going to be able to beat me to it.

Then the flag stand is so bright, I couldn't tell what flag they were waving either. As I'm going by, I'm like looking, I can't tell if that was the checkered flag, the white or green. I know that may sound odd. We had so many 'green-white-checkered's, I didn't know exactly what was going on at that point. Then you wait.

The same thing happened to me here when I won with Kyle. You wait to hear the cheers on the radio. There was silence for a while. I thought, I shouldn't have let off the gas at this point, I should have kept going.

It's just very hard for me to explain. I like what Felix said, I want to be a lot more excited, but I can't believe it right now. You know what I mean? You come into this media center, and the hype that the Daytona 500 gets media-wise is unbelievable. I'm so excited to get to be a part of that. I know my wife is excited about getting to go to New York. There's just so much that goes with this. I feel honored that I get to be the guy that's won this race.

Q: Jamie, you said this was very emotional for you. You specifically seemed to break down when you were talking about your father. Was it because you were thinking about your father or was it about your wife or the whole emotional experience? If it was about your dad, talk to us about how he got you into racing and how it's gotten you to this point.

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I mean, my dad cries a lot. My dad is like the first guy if something really good happens, he's very emotional. When I was sitting in the car, I was like, Whew, I don't want to look at him before I do my TV interview because I know I'm going to break down. And just so you guys know, my dad left before the race was over. He's not trying to get back here now because it's obviously a madhouse.

But, you know, my dad and my wife, I mean, when you -- you know, you do something that you love, you know, you want to share that with the people you love (tearing up).

You can see how I feel.

Q: Chip, could you talk for a minute about what led you guys to the decision to hire Jamie at the point you did? When you did, did you have any idea or thought that this guy could take you to a Daytona 500 win right out of the box?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, you know, I've said before, you know, when it's time to hire a driver, you always take the best guy that's available. And that's a mantra that our team has lived by for a long time.

We obviously had a history with Jamie. I might point out to you to those of you who weren't outside, this was his second first win with us (laughter). For those of you that were around back in the day in Charlotte there, that was a pretty emotional day as well for us.

JAMIE McMURRAY: I'm not quitting again, just so you guys know. I'm staying (laughter).

CHIP GANASSI: So, you know, I mean, it was just a matter of he was the best guy available. I mean, obviously we didn't have an acrimonious split or anything when he left. It was the smart thing to do.

Q: Any thought he could win this thing for you right out of the box?

CHIP GANASSI: I tell you, we were talking, and he won the race here in July. I'm trying to remember the timing of things. Seems to me that didn't hurt him any, winning that race in July. We were already talking at that point, I know. Then right after that, you know, we kind of locked in and said, He's our guy.

Q: Jamie, if you can kind of sum up how things have come together for you on Superspeedways, particularly here. And, Chip, this is another example where a guy comes back to you and has success. Last year Dario Franchitti winning the IndyCar championship. Could you talk about what it's like bringing a guy back, when a guy comes back, and how things seem to work out better the second time around.

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I've always enjoyed the Superspeedway races. Typically, if I can finish 'em, I usually finish pretty well.

The Daytona 500's been a race that I think 19th is the best I've ever finished in this. I've run pretty well, but have gotten caught up in late-race incidents. The July race has always been pretty good to me. I've always been with teams that had really good cars and really good engines. That makes a huge difference when you get to these places. You have to have a car with a good engine and it's got to drive well at a place like here. I've always been really fortunate that the teams I've been with have been able to give me great equipment.

Plate racing is a lot about people helping you. If everyone, when you get out there, you have a decision to make when you get behind somebody of which one you want to help. I've been really fortunate that I'm pretty good friends with a lot of guys out there. You know, guys typically will help me when I get to plate races.

You cannot win one of these races without help. It's not just from one guy. It takes a lot of people. You got to have a fast car, and everything's got to work out for you. I've been obviously really fortunate the last two plate tracks.

CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, you know, in terms of bringing Jamie back, like I said earlier, you know, when he left us, it certainly wasn't anything that was acrimonious.

I guess, believe me, I would have been perfectly happy keeping all these guys I bring back and seem to have some success with. I would have been perfectly happy keeping them in the first place. But we've always put -- I've always thought that we've tried to put our money into the cars and into the engines. I don't have a lot -- I don't have the biggest jet over at the airport there and the flashiest trucks. We're in the business of racing.

I don't want to take anything away from anybody else, but we have to spend our money more wisely. These guys have had opportunities that have driven with me over the years to go get a great big contract after they've driven with me. I feel fortunate that they come back and have some success when they come back because that's important. That's important to a career.

I feel honored that they want to come back and that we have the type of team they want to come back to. And that's the hard work of a lot, a lot of people.

Q: Jamie, I think this is your second win at Daytona and your second straight win on restrictor plates. Despite the fact this was dramatic, there's not any reason to call this an upset, is there?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I don't think so at all. I think Juan and Martin ran last year at the Superspeedways and the ECR engines have always been known for really good restrictor plate engines.

You know, you got to be lucky, though, to win these. I've been able to put myself in a really good position the last two plate tracks. So, I mean, I don't think it's an upset. I think, you know, it's really tough for, you know, a new driver and crew chief and team to all come together and to be able to win in their first race. That's huge.

But, you know, like I've told you guys this every time you ask me, it's been a lot easier going back to this organization than it was when I left and went to Roush because I already knew everybody here. You know, I've said that, that it's very warm welcoming to me, you know, when I got to the shop. It's everything from, you know, the guys in the fab shop to the accountants. I mean, everywhere throughout the shop, I'm very comfortable and I know everybody. I think that's what's made this, you know, transition back easier than what it is for, you know, if you went to an organization you didn't know.

Q: Jamie, what is your dad's name? You haven't seen him yet, right?

JAMIE McMURRAY: No, actually I was on the phone with him when I walked in here. I didn't know that he had left until a little bit ago. Somebody was talking to him on the phone. I was like, Give me the phone, I want to talk to him.

It would have been great for him to get to be here and share all this with me. But, you know, my dad, he comes to a lot of races. I'm very fortunate, my dad is one of my best friends. That's who I eat lunch with every day. We ride go-karts together. I play golf. That's what we do. When we go fishing, I go with my dad. That's who I hang out with. My dad and I have got to share a lot of great times together.

It's unfortunate he didn't get to be in Victory Lane. It's fun for me. I listened to him on the phone. Oh, man, everybody has called me, my phone won't quit ringing. He's getting to have his own celebration right now.

Q: What is his name?

JAIME McMURRAY: Jim. Do you want me to spell it for you (smiling)?

Q: Chip, you've won the three major races in the series that you race in. Can you talk about them and which one you would rank as your favorite?

CHIP GANASSI: I can certainly tell you this one is my new favorite (smiling).

You know, I don't know how you rank 'em. Someday I'll look back on it and say that was all great. I mean, you know, you get into this sport 'cause you love it, and I still love it. I plan on loving it for a while. So I don't want to stop. I don't want to start thinking about, you know -- you're not good to see any books out of me or anything. I don't like to look at those kind of things. That's for the media to talk about and whatever.

I think it's just important we stay winning and we keep trying to get better week in and week out, in whatever series we're in. That's why we're there, to get better, raise the bar, do the right thing for our partners and our sponsors. You know, I just love being in this sport.

So, you know, when you're talking about ranking wins and things, I don't know. I'm lucky to work with the people I work with, I can tell you that. Lucky, very lucky.

Q: I talked to Kevin earlier this week about the relationship that you built. Jamie, could you talk about, given your situation, coming over and working with this group that had been working with somebody like Martin Truex for so long. You're the new guy stepping in. You've been with the Ganassi organization before. Working with this crew, how has that relationship developed and was that a major factor in being here today?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, Kevin was -- or Bono, kind of uncomfortable calling him that, has been one of the best surprises for me coming back. I've parked next to him last year every single weekend. He laughs and smiles all the time now. But I never saw him laugh or smile. Everyone that knows me knows that I typically smile all the time, there's typically a joke in everything that I say. I thought that was really important when got with a crew chief, that we had personalities that were similar.

Then I hung out with him for a little bit. I remember going home and telling Christy, Man, he is nothing like what I expected. I'm like, I really like him. I think we're going to get along just fine.

It's been really nice getting to work with Kevin. He's one of those guys very similar to me that has fun, but he's also very serious when it's time to be serious. He's a racer. We hear that through the garage a lot. But, you know, there are crew chiefs that have this strict engineering background, and Kevin is a racer. When he has an off weekend, he has time off, he has a modified he messes with. He's like me, I have go-karts, I play with when I have time off. We have a lot in common. Close in age, same personalities. We both love races. That's what we do, when we have spare time, is we go race something else.

Q: Jamie, why did your father leave early? Anything to do with the delay?

JAMIE McMURRAY: My dad is notorious for leaving early (laughter).

I have no idea really. I really don't know. I'll have to ask him.

CHIP GANASSI: I'm going to ask him to leave early again next week (laughter).

JAMIE McMURRAY: I'm sure there's a story. If people that know my father will understand there's going to be a great story behind this. But I don't know why he left early. I can give you his number if you want. You can call him and talk to him about it.

The media would like to know how old is your dad?

JAMIE McMURRAY: He's pretty old. He was born 1947. You guys do the math. I don't know how old he is.

Q: When you got emotional about wanting to share this with him, are you kind of not upset, but is that what makes you emotional, that he's not here in person?

JAMIE McMURRAY: No, not at all. Absolutely not. My dad, that's who I grew up racing with. We still race together. Like I say, I mean, he's literally my best friend probably. That's just who I hang out with.

You know, people have told me forever, you know, that you need to spend as much time with your parents as you can while they're around because, you know, one day they won't be, and you'll wish that they were.

I'm really fortunate that my dad's cool and I like hanging out with him. He drives me crazy sometimes. I won't lie to you. We go at each other. But I love him. We hang out together.

It's not that big a deal that he wasn't in Victory Lane lane to me. I almost kind of laugh at it because I know he's fired up that he left. I got something to yell at him about now. So it's good stuff.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dario Franchitti , Jamie McMurray , Martin Truex Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Felix Sabates