You won’t find Jamie McMurray's name in the Chase for the Sprint Cup listing for 2010, but you will find it across the victory marquees of three racing capitals – Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
McMurray had the sort of season in 2010 that drivers dream about, and some of the racing he dominated was produced by NASCAR’s return to the familiar rear-deck spoiler and its abandonment of the reviled rear wing that accompanied the Car of Tomorrow package.
There was no hint over the 2009-10 offseason that McMurray was in for such a slam-bang season this year. He had returned to Chip Ganassi’s team, where he had scored his first Cup victory in a substitute role in 2002 after being the odd-man-out in the Roush Fenway Racing driver carousel.
McMurray had driven some strong races in his career and had registered three Cup victories, but his time at RFR had been less than sensational, and he was basically on the street looking when Ganassi offered a return spot with his team.
The reunion turned out to be a splendid one. McMurray won the schedule’s two most important races – the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 – and tacked on a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the tour’s spotlighted tracks, in the fall to complete a major trifecta.
After the emotional Daytona win, McMurray was in tears in victory lane.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t really put it into words the way it feels. I talked to Christy, 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 cliché. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500.”
McMurray finished 14th in points and thus didn’t participate in the Chase, but it’s safe to say that several drivers who did would swap their seasonal charts with him in a heartbeat. Some drivers spin through entire careers without winning at Daytona or Indianapolis; McMurray conquered both in one season.
After the season-opening Daytona win, McMurray slipped, finishing in the 20s or 30s in five of the next seven races. But he got seconds at Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte to climb from 20th in points to 15th and ultimately reached 13th before failing to break the Chase barrier.
McMurray and everyone else on Sprint Cup grids raced with better footing in 2010 as NASCAR ditched the controversial rear wing on its Cup car and returned to the blade spoiler that had been in use for many seasons before the debut of the Car of Tomorrow.
The spoiler returned for the March race at Martinsville Speedway, ending a run of 93 straight races for the wing, which many fans had criticized. The response in the garage was overwhelmingly positive.
“We have always had a spoiler, and that is the way our cars have always been, and the spoiler certainly looks a lot better on the car in my opinion,” said driver Clint Bowyer.
The switch from wing to spoiler generally was credited with improving racing during the remainder of the season.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.