Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Q&A with rookie phenom McMurray

Looking forward to first Daytona

Florida Today

Jeff Gordon went 41 races before posting his first Winston Cup win. Dale Earnhardt went 15. Tony Stewart did it on his 25th try. Which makes what Jamie McMurray accomplished last October - winning in just his second career Cup start, as a fill-in for the injured Sterling Marlin - all the more impressive.

On Sunday, the 26-year-old Joplin, Mo., native will start his first Daytona 500, driving the No. 42 Havoline ride. The former Busch Series star talks about his new ride, his go-kart days and more.

Question: How many more demands on your time are there now that you're in Winston Cup instead of Busch?

Answer: That's the hardest thing to get used to. In my calendar in January, I probably had four dates that I didn't have anything to do. ... It's overwhelming, the media attention that you get when you move up to Winston Cup. And the fact that I won a race last year, that makes it that much more attention.

Q: What did your schedule look like in January?

A: Well, let's see. I've got it right in front of me. Did an interview at the shop with Winston Cup Illustrated. Got a physical. Went to Daytona and tested for three days. Did a photo shoot for Dodge. Was in Las Vegas for an appearance for four days. Did an interview with Fox at the shop. Doing an interview with you. Got the Winston Cup Preview and Raybestos Rookie Luncheon. Doing a commercial for Havoline. Got a media tour breakfast. Then back in Vegas for a test.

Q: What's the fan mail like?

A: Twenty times what it was - or more. I mean, I used to be able to do all my own fan mail. They would let it stack up for a month and give it to me, and I'd just go home and open envelopes, sign stuff, seal 'em and send stuff back out. But there's so much now that it's just no way. I just don't have enough time.

Q: Given the fact you won in your second Winston Cup race ever, do you think more will be expected of you than the average rookie?

A: I don't think for the fact that I won, I think it's the fact that Ryan (Newman) and Jimmie (Johnson) set such a high standard for rookies (in 2002). With Greg (Biffle), myself and Casey (Mears), if we don't live up to those expectations, maybe people will think it was an unsuccessful year. I don't think we're going to be able to judge our season off of what they did last year, though. In racing, things can change so much. There's so many different things that can change the outcome of a race. Yeah, I think there will be high expectations for me and everybody else, but they can't place them any bigger than what I place on myself.

Q: You're stepping into the famous Havoline car this year. Who comes to mind when we bring up that ride?

A: Obviously, Ernie Irvan, for sure. And Ricky Rudd had so much success in it. It just seems to me that everybody whoever's been in that car has been really successful. And the fans ... It's unreal to read some of the comments. There are a lot of supporters of that team. It's pretty cool to see the amount of people that have been Havoline fans that are now Jamie McMurray fans because I'm driving that car.

Q: How old were you when you first got behind the wheel?

A: I got a go-kart for my eighth birthday. And I've pretty much raced every single weekend since then. But it's what I want to do. You have a little offseason, but since I was 8, that's all I've done.

Q: What was your first car?

A: My first car was a 1986 Ford Ranger XLT. Red and silver.

Q: What do you drive off the track now?

A: I have a Dodge Durango. Obviously drive a Dodge vehicle if you're going to race for them. I have a Durango and a four-wheel drive Dodge pickup.

Q: Last thing: Did you catch Jeff Gordon's appearance as host of "Saturday Night Live"?

A: I thought he did terrific. When he did the mullet haircut (skit), it made my cheeks hurt.

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