Jamie McMurray returns to cherished site: Talladega’s Victory Lane

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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It’s a big deal to get to Victory Lane. But for a lot of drivers, there’s something even better — getting to Victory Lane with your kids.

Jamie McMurray got to do that for the first time last October, when he won the Sprint Cup race at Talladega and got to hug his son and daughter, now 3 and 1, in the celebration.

“I’d seen pictures for years of Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth and all the guys I’ve been friends with who had pictures with their family in Victory Lane,” he said. “That was a great picture. One that I’ll always cherish.”

Now the veteran driver from Joplin, Mo., gets a chance to relive the moment when the series visits Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. He has had some of his best moments on restrictor-plate tracks like the 2.5-mile layout at Talladega. He made his first career Cup start there and has collected two wins, plus another at the Daytona 500.

“I tested at Talladega first. I just remember going there and knowing you could run wide open around the track,” he said. “I had never been at a track where you could do that.”

Like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and other top plate racers, McMurray has developed a knack for navigating the pack and tandem racing that super speedways produce. He said he has his own way of thinking about that style of racing.

“I don’t know that you go there in the mindset of winning,” he said. “I always go with the mindset of running second and pushing someone to the win, and if the circumstances work out that you find yourself in the lead, that’s great. You have to be very open-minded and willing to help, rather than get help. Everybody goes in wanting everybody to help them and not return the favor. I think it’s a different mentality — whoever’s in front of you, work with them. It’s definitely a different style of racing than you normally have.”

McMurray, driving the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Gannassi Racing, sits 19th in the driver standings. He’s winless, so he is not Chase eligible yet.

But he could easily be in the picture by Sunday.

Indy refresher

As Kurt Busch said it after getting on the track for some real work at Indianapolis, the ‘This-is-Indy’ moments are gone.

“This attempt is serious,” he said. “It’s an amazing challenge.”

Busch posted a top speed of 220.644 mph during 66 laps Tuesday in a refresher course. He’ll be back next week with the other rookies for more laps, but Busch is no ordinary Indy rookie. He’s a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver who is trying to make the Indy-NASCAR double on May 25 — racing in the Indy 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 that night.

He’d be only the fourth driver to do it.

“Overall, it was a good day just to settle in with the team and advance further than rookie orientation,” he said. “It felt good to give feedback to the team from the car and have them explain things to me how we’re going to move forward.”

In the refresher on Tuesday, Busch was required to demonstrate car control, placement and a consistent driving pattern.

“Now that all the newness and moments of smiling and ‘This-is-Indy’ are wearing off, that’s when the serious hat goes on and we start to ramp up the program,” he said.

Series updates

Sprint Cup

Montoya return: Juan Pablo Montoya is going to run two races for Team Penske. The team will field the No. 12 Ford for the veteran at Indianapolis and Michigan. Montoya, a two-time winner in Cup, was released by Chip Ganassi Racing and went to IndyCar this year.

Nationwide

JGR rides: Darrell Wallace Jr. is making his season debut in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has four Nationwide starts, the last in 2012, with one pole and three top-10s. ... Sam Hornish will drive the No. 54 for JGR. It is the first of seven races in the 54 this year for the 2013 series runner-up.

IndyCar

Villanueve attempt: Jacque Villanueve ran a refresher test at Indianapolis, taking the first step in his attempt to run the 500. If he qualifies, the former champion will break the record for most years between races, 17, by Cy Marshall and Roland Free from 1930 to 1947.

Champ signed: Chip Ganassi Racing signed Sage Karam as a development driver. Karam, 18, became the youngest Indy Lights series champions last year, winning three races.

NHRA

Hometown win: Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens won and increased her lead in Pro Stock last week at Royal Purple Raceway. She is now 77 points ahead of second-place Allen Johnson, claiming her eighth career victory.

Top Fuel: Antron Brown won for only the second time in Houston, and also took over the points lead. The 2012 Top Fuel champion has five wins in his last 10 events.

0 Wins combined for the top two drivers in the standings, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. If this keeps up, this will be interesting, because the points leader is in the Chase, winless or not.

Quotable

“I think so. For the most part. You never forget getting hit, but for the most part, yeah.”

— Casey Mears, on if he and Marcos Ambrose are “OK” after talking out their conflict last week

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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