Race Coverage Non-Daily
Jerry Jordan, The Examiner Newspaper
McMurray puts Bass Pro Shops in Daytona’s Victory Lane
DAYTONA BEACH – In a race that will likely be remembered for the two long red flags periods due to a pothole in Turn 2, Jamie McMurray was able to hold off a late-race challenge by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take his No.1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet to victory lane in the 52nd Daytona 500.
It was the longest-ever Daytona 500 – both in distance due to NASCAR’s new green-white-checkered rule and in time because of the red flags. But in the end, the racing was fast and furious and the win was still as important as it had been 51 times before.
“It’s unbelievable,” a clearly emotional McMurray said in the media center after the race. “I can’t really put it into words the way it feels. I talked to my wife this morning. She was like, you know, ‘What would it mean to you if you won this race today?’ I told her it would be like a dream come true. I’m trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliché.
“As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500. I won the July race here, a really close race with Kyle (Busch). Coming off of turn four, seeing the checkered flag, knowing there’s not going to be another ‘green-white-checkered’, you’re going to be the Daytona 500 champion, I can’t explain to you. It’s very emotional. I don’t know that I’ve cried like that. I’ve kept trying to compose myself. I couldn’t get it back. It just means so much. You know, for me to be in the position that I was four or five months ago, to have Chip and Felix and Bass Pro Shops welcome me into their organization, it means a lot. It’s a great way for me to be able to pay those guys back.”
McMurray was like a man without a country – or in his case, a racer without a ride – five months ago. He was told by Jack Roush that he was the odd man out when the team had to cut its five-car operation to four under NASCAR’s new rules.
For all the glory that came with winning the Daytona 500, McMurray couldn’t have done it without help. He got a push from best friend and former teammate Greg Biffle to get him up front but then Biffle briefly took away the lead as the laps wound down. McMurray battled back and retook the lead, only looking back to see if he was going to get caught by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“When Greg pushed me to the lead going into turn three, we got checked out a ways,” he said. “I thought there were two or three in a line. Typically when you get two or three in a line, if the guys are running two-wide behind you, you can gap them. I knew we were going to have to run another lap or two, and it was going to be over. Greg got a huge run down the frontstretch. He got by me. I don’t remember exactly everything that happened between the start/finish line for the white, then coming to the checkered. But you know, I got a big run down the to let him know that their driver took the checkered flag.
“I kind of just closed my eyes and listened to the spotter. You’re pretty much looking straight out on pit road,” Manion said. “We have some monitors that we can watch TV. I felt more comfortable with my eyes closed. I’m somewhat of a quiet person. You know, just gathered your thoughts and listened to the spotter. I heard the 88, big push. You know, that’s what you hear, ‘Big push, big push, clear, clear, the 16, OK, out of four.’ And then it was, ‘You’re coming to the checkered flag.’ So it was a minute or so by the time he passed us.”
Unlike last year when the race was shortened by rain and caused some to question whether Matt Kenseth deserved to win a shortened event, McMurray won’t have an asterisk by his name, so to speak. In fact, in this case NASCAR under-promised and over-delivered by giving the fans the Daytona 510. Early last week the sanctioning body said that races would attempt a maximum of three green-white- checkered flag finishes to try and give the fans a race down the frontstretch on the final lap. As fate would have it, the situation came into play the very first race – twice. But it set up a final battle that may go down in history as one of the most competitive races yet.
As for the pothole in Turn 2, NASCAR and track officials did everything they could to get the situation remedied. Their first patch broke apart after 20 laps or so because of the extremely cold temperatures. But the second time around the fix held till the end and had little if any effect on the outcome of the race.
Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig didn’t shift the blame other than to offer a possible explanation for the matter. He manned-up and apologized to fans saying that he feels like the unseasonably heavy rains and freezing temperatures had taken a toll.
“This is not supposed to happen,” Braig said. “And I take full responsibility. I represent 300 full-time staff members I represent a hundred operation people.
“We can come back from this. We know how to fix it. Like I say, we own 12 race tracks We had some other race track people out there from Homestead. We know how to do it right. I apologize for it. This is hallowed ground. We understand that. We accept the responsibility.”