McMurray edges Dale, Jr. to claim first-ever Daytona 500 victory
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For Jamie McMurray, a fresh start with an old team owner was all that he needed to score the biggest victory in his career -- winning the Daytona 500.
Behind team owner Chip Ganassi, McMurray emerged as the victor from one of the craziest races in Daytona 500 history.
"I can't really put into the words the way it feels," McMurray said. "It's like a dream come true. It really is. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of being able to win the Daytona 500. For me to be in this position -- where a few months ago I did not have a ride -- and for Chip Ganassi to welcome me back into his house, I can't pay them back enough."
McMurray's victory makes Ganassi only the second-ever team owner to win the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, joining Roger Penske.
"When I think of how I got into racing with all of our IndyCar success, there was always a question if our NASCAR team was up to the task," Ganassi said. "Hopefully, this win validates that. I'm happy for everyone on this team because they can take stock in this win. I'm really honored to be sitting up here with this win."
McMurray was certainly not considered one of the favorites to win NASCAR's marquee race, but perhaps he gave an early indication of his abilities in last Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout -- where he was a leading contender before Kevin Harvick ultimately won the race.
But McMurray's win at the end of a marathon Daytona 500 that was red-flagged two times -- for a combined 2 hours, 25 minutes -- was stunning and surprising, to say the least.
The checkered flag waved 6 hours and 12 minutes after the green flag waved to start the contest. And while thousands of fans left early in disgust after the second red flag, those who stayed until the end got their money's worth with two
And it was McMurray who had tears of joy after driving scoring his fourth Sprint Cup win.
"I told my wife today that if I won tonight, I was going to cry," McMurray said as he broke down in tears in Victory Lane. 'It's unreal. It's unbelievable, really. I can't explain it. It's a dream. It really is. To be where I was last year and for Johnny Morris and (team owner) Chip Ganassi to take a chance on me to come back means a lot.
"What a way to have to pay them back. To my wife, Happy Valentine's Day and my dad is here, and I'm very emotional. It's very special. After I won at Talladega we went to McDonald's. Tonight, I'm going to have a Big Mac."
There was a Daytona 500-record 21 different leaders in the race. McMurray led the final two laps, the fewest ever for a Daytona 500 winner. There were 52 lead changes, the third most in Daytona 500 history.
McMurray became the 34th different driver to win the Daytona 500 when his Chevrolet defeated Earnhardt's Chevrolet by 0.119-seconds. Greg Biffle's Ford was third followed by Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet. David Reutimann's Toyota was fifth.
McMurray credited Biffle with the push that was needed to win the race. Although Biffle would have rather been in Victory Lane, he was happy to help his former teammate at Roush Fenway Racing.
"This is a big, big win for anybody's career," Biffle said. "I would rather see Jamie win for being a former teammate. Now, he can take me out to dinner for me helping him win it.
"I was trying to get us both out front so that we would have a chance at the end. There is nothing shabby about finishing second in the Daytona 500. But there is nothing like winning. If we could get singled out, we could push out there and that is where we had the best opportunity. I just made my move too soon. I should have pushed him around Turns 1 and 2 and tried him on the short chute."
Earnhardt was able to drive from 10th to 2nd in the final green-, white-, checkered-flag restart in a frantic drive that nearly paid off in victory.
"It was all a blur, I was just going wherever they weren't," Earnhardt said. "I don't enjoy being that aggressive. I just prayed for the best. It was a lot of fun. I just stayed on the gas. It's awesome to finish second but it sucks at the same time. It's frustrating to get that close, but we were running second on the first green-, white-, checkered-finish.
"I was happy for the finish. This validates the changes the team made. I hope we can keep it up. It was a handling race and we didn't have too bad of a race car."
While McMurray's victory was emotional, this will forever be remembered as a tarnished race when asphalt broke up at a track that hasn't been repaved since 1978. There was a long string of tail-lights heading west toward Interstate 95 after the second red flag stopped the race when several attempts at patching the 6-18-inch gouge in the track did not work.
"I absolutely don't blame them," DIS president Robin Braig said of the fans that left the race early. "But I was very pleased with the crowd that left when the checkered flag dropped."
Before that checkered flag dropped, however, the end of the race took many twists and turns.
On lap 194, Ryan Newman and Travis Kvapil crashed on the backstretch. The carnage was quickly removed in time for a restart on lap 198 with Bowyer in the lead before Biffle was able to pass him for the lead. But shortly after that pass, there was a crash involving Joey Logano, Bill Elliott and Boris Said in the third turn, sending the track into at least one overtime session.
Biffle was in front when the green flag waved on lap 203 with Biffle in the front before he was passed by Martin Truex Jr. Another crash involving Kasey Kahne, Robert Richardson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon on the backstretch meant overtime session No. 2.
And that is when the race was decided as Harvick went low in an attempt to take the lead before McMurray pushed Biffle back into the lead in the third turn. But on the final lap, McMurray pulled ahead on the backstretch and stayed there to the checkered flag.
"I want to be a lot more excited but I just can't believe it right now," McMurray said. "I feel honored that I get to be a guy that has won this race."