By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jamie McMurray first came on the scene in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the fall of 2002 when he took over in relief of Sterling Marlin and scored his first win at Charlotte behind the wheel of the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge.
Five years and 166 races later, McMurray had yet to make a second trip to Victory Lane, but by the time the checkered flag flew at Daytona International Speedway in July 2007, the drought was broken in grand fashion.
Now driving for Roush-Fenway Racing, McMurray found himself in the right place at the right time in the waning laps that night to take home the victory.
Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears led the field to green for the final restart of the night with seven laps remaining, with McMurray restarting third. The majority of the top-10 at that point was made up of cars from either Hendrick Motorsports or Roush-Fenway.
Three laps later, McMurray surged to the lead ahead of Gordon in the high lane with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson taking up residence in the low lane.
McMurray and Busch continued to hold onto the top two spots as the laps wound down, but it was a hornet’s nest behind them as all of the Roush cars eventually found themselves lined up behind Edwards up high and Kurt Busch had taken over the pusher position behind younger brother Kyle down low.
The two remained neck and neck throughout the final lap with McMurray edging ahead ever so slightly heading down the backstretch before they pulled even once again through Turn 3 and 4.
McMurray’s Ford got the advantage again off of Turn 4 before Busch side drafted past him as they motored toward the tri-oval and the finish.
Though Busch looked to have the advantage to the checkered in the low lane, McMurray would not be denied as he used the side draft to his benefit, nearly making contact with Busch in the process, edging ahead by inches by the time they reached the finish line.
When the tape was played back, McMurray had beaten Busch by .005 seconds, the closest finish ever at Daytona and one of the closest ever in the history of NASCAR.
“I’ve said it for five years, or however long, that there would never be another victory like Charlotte. When you wait so long to win, I couldn’t believe it,” said McMurray. “It’s incredible and every driver out here that goes through that knows how special this is. I started crying and I’m like ‘What are you crying for?’ Just because you’re happy, you know, celebrate.
“I’m happy for these guys. We had a tough year last year. Irwin and Crown Royal and Coke, everybody stuck with us. I cannot believe I’m in Victory Lane at Daytona, of all places.
“Carl, you know, he helped me win the race. He shoved me and probably could have made it three wide, but he pushed me to the win, so huge thanks to Carl Edwards. They said it was the last lap and I knew we were going to run doors all the way here. I didn’t want to be on the bottom because I knew the outside would have the run. I don’t believe it.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, who was in his last season driving for Hendrick Motorsports, decried the lack of help he received from his teammates in the run to the finish, but noted the help his brother gave him down the stretch.
“We didn’t have much help from the teammates tonight, but our Carquest/Kellogg’s Chevrolet was pretty fast and it had to be the best Hendrick car out there. Proud of that effort by all the guys and just being able to run up front all night. Got to thank my brother there for pushing me at the end and sticking with me.
“Going into (Turn) 3, I think if I would have lagged back a little bit more and let Jamie get further ahead, I probably could have had a better suck and side-draft coming down the front straightaway. As soon as I started slowing down, he started slowing down, so there wasn’t much we were going to get by with there.
“It was pretty close. There wasn’t much I could have done differently.”