McMurray's fortunes turn at Roush Fenway Racing
Jamie McMurray called 2006 "frustrating and miserable." 2007? It's been anything but for the Roush Fenway driver, who's 10th in points after three straight top-10 finishes, writes David Newton.
CHARLOTTE. N.C. -- Jamie McMurray knew his Roush Fenway Racing team had turned the corner when another Nextel Cup owner recently approached him about the length of his contract.
"I actually had somebody mention to me about coming to drive with them already," McMurray said on Tuesday. "I told him I'm never leaving Roush, that I've already been through that once at [Chip Ganassi Racing].
"The whole time at Ganassi when I had people coming to me I wanted to leave. I always thought the grass would be greener. I realize how difficult now it is to get a good team together. Now that I've got it, I don't want to give it up."
Life indeed has changed for McMurray.
A year ago, there was speculation that he wouldn't make it through his second season at Roush Fenway Racing after a career-worst 25th-place finish in the points.
He went through more crew chiefs in a season (three) than some drivers go through in a career. Team owner Jack Roush was so desperate that he told the 30-year-old driver from Joplin, Mo., to find his own crew chief because nothing he tried worked.
McMurray picked Larry Carter, and seven races into the season he is 10th in points with three consecutive top-10 finishes and four overall. He didn't get his fourth top-10 a year ago until the 12th race and finished with only seven, none in the final 14 events.
"Oh, man, it's going so much better than last year," said McMurray, who left Ganassi Racing after the 2005 season. "Our sport is based on results and performance, and we didn't have that last year. It was frustrating and miserable, no doubt about it.
"I don't know if I saved my job, [but] I feel like I'm in a better position now than I've ever been."
The chemistry is so good on the No. 26 team that McMurray's mother noticed it listening on the scanner from her son's motorcoach at Las Vegas last month.
"We were on the golf cart on the way to the helicopter pad," McMurray recalled. "She doesn't usually say anything about racing. She said she couldn't believe the difference in everyone's personality, just their behavior.
"She said it was so much more laid back, that if something went wrong nobody got excited, that we just fixed the problem and moved on. I thought for her to say that was big. I said, 'Yeah, Mom, it's just a lot different than last year.' "
McMurray gives a lot of credit to Carter, who has assembled a team that has the kind of chemistry McMurray always heard about but never truly experienced.
"I talked to [general manager] Max Jones today," McMurray said. "I told him I never would have believed we would be this far along this quickly. I mean, we started from scratch. We have only four people left from last year and every car has been brand new.
"Everyone we work with is really a good quality worker. They all like working with Larry. It's so important to have all those guys believe in the driver and crew chief. Man, it's all just working so well right now."
McMurray thought things would work well in 2006, when he stepped into basically the same team with which Kurt Busch won the 2004 title. But he never felt comfortable with the cars crew chief Jimmy Fennig built for Busch, so a change was made.
Roush moved Bob Osborne, the crew chief for Carl Edwards, to the No. 26 team because he thought Edwards had cars better suited for McMurray's style.
"It wasn't because we didn't think Jimmy could get the job done," McMurray said. "Jack just thought Carl had the best cars in the shop, and thought the easiest way to get me those cars was to give me Bob.
"That didn't work either."
Carter, who worked with McMurray when they both worked with Rusty Wallace's Busch Series team, has panned out. The addition of Todd Zeigler, the former car chief for Mark Martin, and former Penske Racing engineer Derek Starnets has made for a group stronger than McMurray could imagine.
He said the cars are almost identical to the ones driven by teammate Matt Kenseth, who is third in points.
"Matt and I like different spring combinations, but for the most part they're the same," McMurray said. "We just unload them and the cars are fast."
So instead of spending the weekend searching for the right setup McMurray is searching for a way to win, which he believes will happen soon.
"We seem to have a plan every week," McMurray said. "It's been very organized, and our pit crew has been great."
Last weekend, when McMurray went a lap down after the decision to add rubber in the right rear made the car worse, was the perfect example.
"We pulled the rubber out, made more adjustments and came back and finished fifth," he said. "Man, you see guys do that but it hasn't happened very often to me.
"It just makes you feel good that you have a team capable of doing that."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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