CUP: McMurray’s Dream Season

Editor’s Note: is profiling the top 30 drivers in the final Sprint Cup standings.

Jamie McMurray not only had a breakout season in 2010, he had a dream season – one every NASCAR drivers wishes for.

McMurray won the two biggest races of the season, becoming just the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Indy’s Brickyard 400 in the same season. His Indy victory also earned team owner Chip Ganassi a special distinction – he became the first owner to win the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.

McMurray’s standout season was surprising for a few reasons. He had just three career victories entering the year and had never won more than one race in a single season.

He also had just been released by Roush Fenway Racing after four disappointing seasons. He signed late in 2009 to drive for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, rejoining Ganassi’s organization, where he won just once in three years at the start of his career.

And McMurray had always struggled with his confidence, a constant problem at Roush. He got rid of those problems in a big way in 2010.

Season Highlight: All three victories were big, but nothing will likely ever top his dramatic, emotional victory in the Daytona 500. McMurray charged past Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle in the final two laps to win NASCAR’s biggest race and realize a dream.

“As a kid growing up, this what you dream of, being able to win the Daytona 500,” the emotional McMurray said.

Low Point: Two weeks after winning the Daytona 500, McMurray slipped up and got into teammate Juan Pablo Montoya at Las Vegas, causing them both to wreck and infuriating Montoya, straining an already tense relationship. The other low point came at Talladega in November, a race that McMurray won in 2009. After finishing second there in April, McMurray was involved in a wreck with Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr., ruining a good chance to contend for his fourth win of the season.

Defining Moment: While the Daytona win was huge, it was at Indy where McMurray officially arrived as a legitimate star and consistent threat. McMurray’s surprise win at Daytona was fueled primarily by drafting help and track position. At Indy, he proved he could drive, working his way to the front and passing Kevin Harvick for the lead and the win. He also won a race that Montoya had dominated the last two years. Many thought that if Ganassi won the NASCAR race at Indy, it would be Montoya who did it. Instead, it was McMurray.

Key Stat: Though McMurray won three races, he had 10 finishes of 24th or worse, costing him a spot in the Chase. McMurray has now finished 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th in points, just missing the Chase three times – all with Ganassi.

Outlook: With three wins and runnerup finishes at Charlotte, Darlington and Talladega in 2010, McMurray finally proved that he could win anywhere. More wins and another shot at the Chase in 2011 would not be surprising. • Hall of Fame makes gains with boost in October attendance