Jamie McMurray to start first Daytona 500

Gatorade 125's stand in the way of Jamie McMurray's first Daytona 500 start. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Dec. 27, 2002) -- Jamie McMurray has already won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, but he hasn't even started a Daytona 500 yet. McMurray...

Gatorade 125's stand in the way of Jamie McMurray's first Daytona 500 start.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Dec. 27, 2002) -- Jamie McMurray has already won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, but he hasn't even started a Daytona 500 yet.

McMurray captured his first Winston Cup victory in only his second career start late in the 2002 season while filling in for the injured Sterling Marlin in the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2003, McMurray has been tapped to drive the No. 42 Havoline Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing and compete for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

McMurray, who also collected his two career NASCAR Busch Series victories last year, is excited beyond belief about the upcoming 2003 season and his first opportunity to compete in the Daytona 500.

"I know that every year that I've run Daytona, whether it was with the trucks or the Busch cars, there's something about when you get in the car," McMurray said. "They're all lined up on pit road ready to pull out. There's just a feeling that goes through your stomach that's like no other. I don't get nervous for any race. I don't know if it's the first race or because it's Daytona, but the Daytona 500 is huge."

McMurray will not only feel the pressure of his first full season in NASCAR's big leagues, but he'll also be concerned about qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Daytona 500 qualifying is done in a unique format. Following Bud Pole Day on Feb. 9, drivers who qualified in odd-numbered positions - first, third, fifth, etc. - compete in the first Gatorade 125. Drivers who qualified in even-numbered positions battle in the second race.

Only the pole winner and outside pole from Bud Pole Day are locked into the starting grid while everybody else is locking horns for a starting position in the "Great American Race."

The top-14 finishers in each Gatorade 125 (with the exception of the already qualified pole winner and outside pole winner) earn positions 3-30 on the staring grid. The rest of the 43-car field is filled based on qualifying speeds and car owner provisional points.

Just like his fellow Raybestos Rookies Greg Biffle and Jack Sprague, McMurray will be driving for a newly formed team and won't have any provisionals to use and will have to crack the 43-car field for the "Great American Race" either on speed or in the Gatorade 125's.

"I don't want to say I'm not worried about that, but I'm not just because we have good enough stuff and my speedway performance has been pretty good so far," McMurray said. "The one thing I feel good about is that I already ran Talladega in a Cup race and I got to run those last six races with all the Cup guys. Maybe I made some mad, but at the same time at least I got to race with them for a while.

"It's odd. It's very odd. I didn't think much of it until now that I have to go try to qualify for it. Like I said, I think our program is good enough. The only problem with Daytona is that you have a 50-50 shot at wrecking. If we can just stay out of trouble, we're going to be fine."

Tickets for all Speedweeks 2003 events, including the Daytona 500 and the Gatorade 125's, are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

-dis-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Jack Sprague , Jamie McMurray , Chip Ganassi
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing