McMurray struggles to explain nosedive
Coming off strong 2010 season, EGR team was picked to be contender.
By Jim Utterjutter@charlotteobserver.com
By Jim Utter The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Friday, Oct. 14, 2011
Modified: Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray talk on pit road prior to qualifying for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jeff Siner - email@example.com
CONCORD It wasn't supposed to be like this.
A year ago, Jamie McMurray left Charlotte Motor Speedway with this third Sprint Cup Series win of the season and visions of contending for a series championship in 2011.
He was not alone.
Race fans and motorsports media across the country tapped McMurray and his No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team as near-locks to make the 12-driver field for the Chase for the Cup.
But something happened on the way to cashing in on those predictions.
The question remains, though, what?
"I think it was the Dover race in the spring when reality set in," said McMurray, who remains mired in 27th in the series standings entering Saturday night's Bank of America 500. "We had an engine blow up in Daytona, got caught up in a huge wreck at Phoenix.
"It quickly became clear all the things that went right for us last year were not going the right way this year."
Even after bad finish after bad finish piled up, McMurray remained defiant that he and his team would turn the corner.
"I guess it was a little bit of wishful thinking because of how well we ran last year," he said. "I mean, the only thing that really changed on the cars was the nose.
"We didn't seem to have the speed. Not only didn't we have the speed, we were breaking engines, getting caught up in accidents."
None of that seemed possible after the 2010 season.
McMurray kicked off his return to EGR by winning the 2010 Daytona 500. He finished second in three more races before adding a victory in the Brickyard 400.
In the span of less than six months, McMurray had won the two biggest races in NASCAR.
He failed to make the Chase, but added a victory in the fall Charlotte race and seemed primed for a championship run this season.
In the offseason, NASCAR even added two "wild card" berths to the Chase based on number of wins, which in large part seemed directed at McMurray's plight of winning three of the sport's biggest races in a season but unable to compete for the title.
Yet a year later, McMurray didn't even come close to being able to utilize the new rule - or the old ones.
"It just felt that nothing would go right," he said.
In August, team owner Chip Ganassi said he was "heartbroken" over the disappointing year for his Cup teams.
"We lost our way a bit," Ganassi said in an interview with Speed Channel.
"A year ago, we had the best cars. A year ago, we had the best engines.
"It's a cycle thing and I'd like to think we're in the bottom of the cycle right now. We have some work to do."
There have been a few bright spots for McMurray. He was fourth in his return to the Brickyard and finished fifth at Bristol, Tenn., but in the last five races, he hasn't finished better than 16th.
"We're obviously horrible in points but performance-wise it hasn't been as bad as it looks," he said. "With the engine failures and the accidents we've been in, it's made for a very long season."
Hope remains, however.
EGR continues to work to fine-tune its cars and last month Ganassi hired John Probst as the organization's new technical director to oversee all engineering of its NASCAR teams. Probst most recently worked with Red Bull Racing.
One positive McMurray has found in this season is reinforcement of his decision to return to EGR, where he started his Cup career.
"It has been significantly easier to have a not-so-successful season here at EGR than any of my four years at Roush (Fenway Racing). Chip has been really supportive and is a really good owner," he said.
"Everyone has different ways to motivate people. Part of Chip and I's success is he knows how to keep me motivated or not kick you when you're down.
"Even though it's been very frustrating this year, there has been a lot of support from (the sponsors) and Chip, which is 100 percent the opposite of what I had when I was at Roush."
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