CONCORD, N.C. — In a hurry to fly back to Indianapolis, Chip Ganassi abruptly left the news conference after Jamie McMurray’s upset victory in the Sprint All-Star race. Before he stepped down from the podium, Ganassi leaned in and planted a kiss on McMurray’s cheek.
Ganassi, often gruff and sometimes just plain grumpy, also has a softer side that he can’t hide. It comes out in bursts of emotion, or sentimental moments like Saturday night, when McMurray pulled off a bold upset to win the $1 million prize at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“He said to me in Victory Lane, ‘We’ve won a lot of great races together, haven’t we?”’ Ganassi recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, we have.’ It was kind of special for him to think of that. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver.”
There’s no doubt McMurray went out in the final 10-lap segment and took the win. He was second on the restart, lined up on the outside of leader Carl Edwards, and he refused to back down as the two went door-to-door for an entire lap.
McMurray surged ahead after the white-knuckle battle to win in the event he’d never before finished higher than eighth.
It added yet another NASCAR “major” to a resume that exclusively includes big wins. McMurray had seven previous victories in the Sprint Cup Series, all at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Indianapolis. Among those wins? The Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, two of the biggest races on the calendar.
Now he has an All-Star victory, making him one of only seven drivers to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard and the All-Star exhibition. McMurray’s won all three with Ganassi and team co-owner Felix Sabates.
“After the race, one of the first things I thought was ‘I’m so glad that Chip and Felix are here and I get to share this with them,”’ McMurray said. “They were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.”
CREW CHIEF CONNECTION
McMurray heaped praise on first-year crew chief Keith Rodden, a longtime engineer for Kasey Kahne before he was practically hand-picked by McMurray to take control of the No. 1 team. He’d heard of Rodden time and again over the years, and was sold on his capabilities after one 20-minute conversation in the basement of Rodden’s house.
McMurray left the meeting and immediately called Ganassi general manager Max Jones, imploring him to lure Rodden away from his supporting role with Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m like, ‘That’s the guy. You’ve got to figure out how to make it work. No matter what you have to pay him, what you have to do, get that guy because I like everything about him,’ “ McMurray said.
As McMurray celebrated the win, Kevin Harvick was left contemplating how a victory slipped away for the second consecutive week.
Harvick was the leader headed to pit road for a mandatory four-tire stop following the fourth segment. He’d earned that spot out front by accumulating the highest average finish from the previous four segments, and a strong stop from his Stewart-Haas Racing crew would allow him to stay out front and presumably wrap up the win over the 10-lap sprint to the finish.
Instead, he was beat off pit road by Edwards and McMurray and restarted in third.
He wound up second, but wasn’t pleased with the result.
“Cost us the race,” Harvick said. “All in all, they put a car on the race track that was capable of winning. We just didn’t get it done.”
Kahne believed he was the guy to beat after winning the second and third segments of the race. But he smacked the wall hard in the fourth segment, and grumbled after the race his car slid in oil on the Charlotte Motor Speedway surface.
Kahne wound up 14th after leading 20 laps.
“You could see the oil through the speedy dry,” Kahne said. “The spotters are even saying something and the guy who drives the pace car said it was clean, it was just stained. No, it was still oil out there. NASCAR just didn’t clean the track.”
Phil Parsons Racing wound up winning more than $100,000 this weekend because the online Reddit community has vigorously gotten behind driver Josh Wise.
Wise was the upset winner of the fan vote, beating out favorite Danica Patrick to earn a berth in the All-Star race.
Reddit users have backed Wise and the underfunded team with the virtual currency Dogecoin. Supporters raised more than $55,000 to sponsor Wise’s car earlier this month at Talladega, then set their sights on winning the fan vote for him.
Wise wound up 15th in the main event to earn $86,411. His 18th-place finish in the Sprint Showdown was worth $26,962.
A MILLION BUCKS
Drivers are often asked what they’ll do with the $1 million prize from the All-Star race. Although the take home pay is far less – team owners collect at minimum 50 percent of the winnings – very few recalled any splurges or impulse purchases with the extra dough.
McMurray won’t be racing to the mall anytime soon with his winnings.
He vowed to use the money to put his children through college.
“School is really expensive, and you guys don’t know this about me probably, but I’m very frugal – just outright tight,” McMurray said. “I’m paranoid about money every day of my life, and I’ve looked at what school costs, and college and just getting to college, and it’s most likely going to go to that.”