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Daytona 500 win moves Ganassi into elite company

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chip Ganassi squirmed a bit, shifted the microphone he was holding in his hands, then gazed blankly at the floor.

Jamie McMurray had just been asked to describe his NASCAR team owner — the man who has taken two separate chances on McMurray — and Ganassi was clearly uncomfortable with the praise he was about to receive.

"He's not wanting me to compliment him right now," McMurray said.

But any kind words from McMurray had been earned.

Ganassi, after all, gave McMurray his first break when the little-known driver was looking for a shot at NASCAR's top level. He had his ego bruised three years later when McMurray fled for a perceived better opportunity at Roush-Fenway Racing, but Ganassi didn't let the hurt feelings fester and agreed to give McMurray another shot last fall when the driver found himself out of work.

It paid off Sunday night with a thrilling Daytona 500 victory, the biggest NASCAR win for both the driver and owner.

It was evident how grateful McMurray was from his tearful Victory Lane celebration, when he effusively thanked Ganassi, co-owner Felix Sabates, and sponsor Bass Pro Shops for giving him a second chance.

Ganassi deflected the exultation in the hours after the victory, and tried to duck it again Monday at the Daytona 500 champion's breakfast.

"It's not about me," Ganassi quietly said. "It's just not about me."

How wrong he is.

Nevermind that McMurray's win in the Super Bowl of NASCAR moved Ganassi into elite company with Roger Penske as the only owners to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race.

More important, the win proved what Ganassi has insisted all along: He could be pushed all the way to the ropes in the brutal business of auto racing, but he will never be knocked down.

"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," Ganassi said. "We've taken a lot of lumps over the last couple years. We have to spend our money a little wiser than some teams. I'm not ashamed of that at all."