Jamie McMurray at Home at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Nate Ryan, USA Today
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It was five years ago that Jamie McMurray spent his first Sprint Cup Speedweeks apart from Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team.
But outside the confines of Daytona International Speedway, he actually never left.
"Jamie called the week before Daytona and said, 'Are you going to have your boat in Daytona? Can I just hang around with you?' " team co-owner Felix Sabates recalled. "So he hung around with me the whole week. Chip said, 'What the hell is he doing here?'
"Jamie always felt like part of our team. He was sitting here for four years hanging around our trucks at the racetrack, so he never went very far."
The prodigal speed merchant returned last season to a grand homecoming at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. McMurray opened his second stint with a Daytona 500 victory, posted wins in the Brickyard 400 and Bank of America 500 (at Charlotte Motor Speedway) and had five more finishes of second or third for a standing of 14th in points.
Familiarity bred success for the Joplin, Mo., native, who said he knew 90% of the organization. The strangers were the members of the crew for his No. 1 Chevrolet who had joined Ganassi a year earlier in the Dale Earnhardt Inc. merger. But McMurray hit it off well with crew chief Kevin Manion, building a rapport he lacked in four seasons at Roush Fenway Racing.
"What they did for me, and what wasn't done at Roush, is they built the cars around the driver," said McMurray, who finished outside the top 15 in points in all four seasons at Roush. "If I had to run the cars that (teammate) Juan (Pablo Montoya) is running, I would have ran very similar to how I did at Roush. "
"At Roush, you'd get crucified if you got too far out of the box (of) the setup. And it just doesn't work for everybody."
Montoya went through a similar situation as a Formula One rookie 10 years ago when Williams put Ralf Schumacher's setup in his car and expected Montoya to match his performance.
"Every person looks for something different in the car," Montoya said. "Every person drives different. So it's crazy to have the same setup for the whole team."
Greg Biffle, one of McMurray's former teammates, said a four-car team such as Roush can be less attentive in meeting driver preferences than a two-car team such as Ganassi.
"You face that in a big company," Biffle said. "I can't go in and say, 'You know what, let's try this other front suspension this week.' We're building a lot of cars for a lot of people. When you have a two-car team, you don't have to go talk to the head of production. You just say, 'Change it.' The bigger the organization, the less customization you can do."
In McMurray's case, it meant less confidence, too.
"Any driver would be lying if they told you they had not ever doubted their ability," he says. "I don't know that last year validated that I can do it as much as it shows when you get in the right situation (you) can win.
"It's just about getting with the right crew chief, owner, cars and setups."