Jamie McMurray enjoys wild ride of Daytona 500 victory through potholes, sprint finish

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

McMurray savors wild ride of Daytona 500 victory

NEW YORK — Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray says that before the race was delayed Sunday to fix a pothole he didn’t even know there was a problem with the track.

“I didn’t see (the pothole) on the track, honestly I thought it was a piece of rubber,” said McMurray during a victory lap lunch in New York on Tuesday. “The way the track was shaded, you couldn’t tell there was a hole there.”

After two delays to fix the pothole — taking more than two hours in total — McMurray held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR’s version of overtime, a “green-white-checker” finish, to win his first Daytona 500.

NASCAR rules were tweaked to allow for up to three attempts at a green-flag finish, instead of just one.

“We all knew that would likely result in wild, wild finishes,” McMurray said. “And more than one. We didn’t think we’d get it in on the first attempt.”

The 33-year-old from Joplin, Mo., brushed off the two pothole delays, using the down time to talk to his crew chief and other drivers.

“It didn’t seem that long, it went by really fast for me,” he said. “It was actually nice to get out and talk with other drivers and hear what they were thinking about how the cars were driving.

“It’s unique, almost like a rain delay. I thought the drivers did really good at being patient when we got back in the car, not knowing if we were going to be able to finish the race.”

In the dramatic finish, McMurray outlasted 12-time Daytona winner Earnhardt. The veteran drove from 10th to second over the final two laps, but was unable to chase down McMurray, who won his fourth career Sprint Cup race.

“Of anyone at Daytona that you don’t want behind you, it’s Dale Jr.,” McMurray said. “He’s won a tremendous amount of races here and the legacy that his father left behind at Daytona is incredible.”

So how did he hold off Earnhardt on the final lap?

“It’s not so much you holding him off, it’s the push he’s getting from the guys behind him. And they were racing so hard that no one really got lined up to give him a good shove.

“But you don’t know that when you’re the car in front. You’re looking in the mirror and just hoping the run he gets isn’t going to be enough.”

McMurray got a final push from friend Greg Biffle.

“To have your friend be able to do that means a lot,” he said. “He did exactly what I would’ve done. You want push him far enough ahead that you clear, so you can be the guys to race for the win.”

After the race McMurray grabbed the checkered flag, slapped the Daytona 500 sign and knelt down before the tears came.

“This was my dream, to win the Daytona 500, that’s what I wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said. “You don’t know how you’re going to behave when they put a TV camera in front of your face. You can’t control your emotions. I wouldn’t take any of it back, it’s just who I am.”

McMurray made the rounds of talk shows in New York with his wife, Christy. They planned to fly to San Francisco for more appearances before heading to Sunday’s race in Fontana, Calif.

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