IN THE COCKPIT: Jamie McMurray - 2010 Daytona 500 Winner
Jamie McMurray, SPEEDTV.com
It sounds like a cliché to say you’re looking forward to beginning a new NASCAR season nowadays but I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to walking into the Daytona garage Thursday. However, for the first time in my career, getting back to work wasn’t in the forefront of my mind all winter long.
While I’ve missed driving the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/McDonalds Chevrolet, competing and being at the track, this was the best offseason I’ve ever had. And it came on the heels of the best season I’ve ever had.
My wife, Christy, and I welcomed our first child on Thanksgiving Day, and it has been an unbelievable experience — one I don’t think anyone or anything could prepare you for. Our friends who have kids tried to explain what becoming parents would mean to us, and you think you get it, but once Carter was born, we realized we didn’t. Being a father has been wonderful, but there is so much responsibility associated with parenthood.
When I wasn’t changing diapers or playing with Carter during the offseason, I was working on my go-karts. They’re my hobby, my stress-reliever outside of Cup racing. I started building go-karts from the ground up about a year-and-a-half ago, and racing what I have built is cool. I’m not really interested in going to a local go-kart track and renting a kart for an hour or two. I want to drive something that I put my heart and soul into … kind of like our Daytona 500 win last year.
That win still feels great even a year later, but despite being the most recent Daytona 500 champion, I don’t feel like we have an edge on the competition. To win at Daytona, you have to be both good and lucky. Success there really doesn’t hinge on qualifying position or the first half of the race, but more on being in the right position on the last lap. It would be awesome if our Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team could repeat, but we also know how to be realistic and manage our expectations.
Daytona is going to be different than any race we’ve ever had there before. It will look a lot like a Talladega event except on a much narrower track. I’m extremely curious to see how practice for the Bud Shootout goes this week because it will be the first time we’ve had a large number of cars on the track at one time since the track repaving and I think a lot of us view the Shootout as a good practice for the 500. We only drafted with about 20 cars in a pack during the Goodyear tire test at Daytona, and then we had very minimal drafting at the January test, so it will be interesting to see how a large pack shakes things up.
I shook things up a bit for myself last month when I competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for my car owner, Chip Ganassi. It was really cool to be there with Chip when he won the prestigious race again, especially after it seemed to be the only one victory he was “missing” on his overall 2010 resume, but it also was disappointing to finish runner-up to his car. When you test for three days, spend four days there for the race and then stay awake for 40-plus hours during it, finishing second is a letdown. Being positioned to win that race is so difficult and it’s a bummer when you come that close but don’t win. Another thing about the Rolex 24 is how strange it is to run part of the race only to watch your car finish the race without you in it. That’s a bit bizarre and unlike any other form of racing.
Something else I enjoyed over the offseason was not having to worry about changes to our team or sponsors … or my ride for the next year. The past couple of months were really laid-back and relaxed for me. Who knew how great that could feel?
That doesn’t mean, though, that we haven’t set goals and worked hard on the 2011 season. It’s no secret I have come close to making the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup a few times but never could quite get there. Our issues have been something different each year, but making the Chase is all about consistency and we just weren’t consistent last year. We gained a lot in this department during the second half of the 2010 season, and if we can regain and maintain that same consistency and speed, I don’t anticipate any struggles in turning the tide for ourselves this year.
It’s kind of hard to believe that battle begins anew this week in Daytona, isn’t it? As we go through the season, make sure to stop by here as I’ll be dropping in every few weeks. Enjoy the race!