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The back-story to Jamie McMurray's season, his Daytona win, and now the Brickyard, is all about a great career comeback

  Jamie McMurray (L) and team owner Chip Ganassi whooping it up after winning the Brickyard 400, and preparing to kiss the bricks (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Last summer Jamie McMurray didn't even have a ride set up for 2010, and things were looking dim.
   But now he's enjoying his best NASCAR season ever, Sunday adding the Brickyard 400 to his Daytona 500 victory, and giving team owner Chip Ganassi an historic racing 'trifecta' – the Daytona classic, the Indianapolis 500 itself, and the Brickyard, all in the same season.
   But for much of the day that didn't look like the way it was going to turn out.
  Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle made mincemeat of their competition right from the start, in a dominating two-man show that at one point late had a commanding 10-second lead on the field. But a late pit stop call for four tires --- though likely the logical call at that point, with 60 miles to go – rather than just two tires, proved decisively wrong for both.
   Montoya and Biffle restarted side-by-side in the fourth row behind the men who took only two tires, with McMurray and Kevin Harvick at the head of the pack.
   Biffle worked his way through traffic to make it a three-man race until the final five miles.
   But Montoya crashed in traffic just moments after the restart with 50 miles to go, and he was back in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage for the finish of the race.
   That set up an 11-lap sprint to the wire. Harvick had the lead and the inside line for the restart, but McMurray blew right by him into the corner and never looked back, winning by a comfortable 10 lengths.

   The key final pit stop: Juan Pablo Montoya (42) taking four tires, teammate Jamie McMurray (orange car) taking just two and winning the race back on to the track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "This was certainly a mixed emotions day....and is this surreal? Yes," Ganassi said. "But this is a team sport...and Brian Pattie (Montoya's crew chief) and Bono (McMurray's crew chief Kevin Manion) are like brothers, and Juan and Jamie, well, they're not like brothers but they are an open book. And Jamie and Bono wouldn't have won this one without Juan and Brian."
   It was an emotional day on many levels for Ganassi: "People had Jamie written off. People had us written off. But Jamie came back as a better person and a better driver, and we had grown as a team.
   "A lot of people may have written us off. Some even said our team was 'in disarray.' But we knew that wasn't the case."
   The back-story here: McMurray got his first big break back in 2001 when Ganassi hired him to fill in for injured Sterling Marlin. But after a few years things seem to get stale, and McMurray moved over to Jack Roush's camp. However McMurray, for whatever reason, never quite realized his potential there, though he did win Talladega last fall.
   When McMurray finally persuaded Ganassi to rehire him this year, things just began clicking big-time. Ganassi's equipment is stronger, the Childress engines are stronger, Montoya is in high stride....and McMurray has become a big-game player.
   So it's been a great year for Ganassi, his best ever in NASCAR.
   But it's not looking like either McMurray or Montoya will make the championship playoffs.
   How could a man who wins the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 not even make the playoffs? Well Ganassi's men have been strong in the major events but off in the rest.
   McMurray is 16th in the standings, 151 points behind the playoff cut; Montoya is 22nd in the standings, 325 points off the cut.
   "Making the chase is going to be tough, but we're testing for Watkins Glen Monday," Manion said. "It's going to take some good strong runs. And we picked up about 30 points here."
   "Everyone wants to make the chase...but winning the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 this year means more to me than making the chase," McMurray said. "Because next year you'll remember who won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400....but you won't remember who finished third or fourth in the chase...."

    One of the big stories here has been the crowd – attendance has been off for the sport lately, and this place seats 257,000. So NASCAR's announced crowd of 140,000 – probably an accurate assessment – looked quite empty.
    Still, 140,000 people is a major crowd by any other standards....and when looking at the stands, the thing perhaps to consider is the terrible unemployment picture in this neck of the woods: The Indiana-Michigan-Ohio-Illinois-Kentucky area is suffering with 2.5 million people unemployed.

   Down the stretch McMurray was sweating out his tire situation:
   "I really thought I had a flat left-front, so taking just two tires was a huge gamble for us," McMurray said.
   "But I didn't figure taking four tires would put us in position to win.
   "So that call was key.
   "When Kevin gave me the outside for that restart, we both spun the tires really bad, but man I just had way more grip that last run than just before."
   "I'd said before the race that four tires will win this race....." Manion admitted.
   "With about 25 laps to go, I was looking at Juan leading and figuring it was just going to be his day," McMurray said. "I'm a big believer in fate, and I'd just felt this was going to be Juan's weekend. He had a good tire test here, and he ran well last year. And he started from the pole...."

   Biffle's Ford was clearly strong enough to win, a major breakthrough perhaps for the Blue Oval guys. And teammate Carl Edwards managed to sneak away with a seventh.
   But this has been a Chevy track lately, and not only were Chevys quite strong again, but four of the top-six finishers (McMurray, Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton) were running Earnhardt-Childress engines.
   Irony here: the car owner of record for McMurray is Teresa Earnhardt.

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  Jamie McMurray at the yard-of-bricks finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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