Tuesday, February 25, 2003

McMurray zooms to Busch victory

Rising star's 2nd win in row at Rockingham

The Associated Press

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. Jamie McMurray led all but five of 197 laps Monday to run away with the rain-delayed Busch Series race at North Carolina Speedway.

McMurray started second, passed pole-sitter David Green on the backstretch of the first lap, and steadily pulled away from the field to beat him to the finish line by almost 20 car lengths.

"I feel very blessed to get in a car that is that good because you have to have a great car to have a performance like that," McMurray said. "It's unreal to have a car that good."

McMurray lost the top spot just once, when fellow Winston Cup driver Michael Waltrip passed him on the track on lap 164. But caution came out seconds later, all the leaders stopped for tires, and McMurray beat Waltrip out of the pits.

Kerry Earnhardt did not pit and took over the lead, but McMurray sailed by him after the restart and was never challenged.

Todd Bodine finished third after a door-to-door battle with Green over the final lap in the only real race to the finish.

Green, coincidentally, is driving the car and using the team that McMurray gave up when Chip Ganassi hired the then-unknown driver for a Winston Cup ride.

"I am using all of Jamie's old guys, so we're developing a little bit of a rivalry," Green said.

It was the second consecutive win at Rockingham for McMurray, who inherited the victory here in November when the leaders wrecked in front of him and he sailed on by for the win.

His dominating run in the Busch race, which was rained out on Saturday, followed his fifth-place finish in Sunday's Winston Cup race.

In fact, the only reason McMurray is even entered in Busch races this year is to give him more learning time on the difficult tracks before the Winston Cup events.

It's a deal Ganassi worked out with Busch Series car owner James Finch: Ganassi gave Finch monetary support for his program in exchange for seat time for the budding Winston Cup star.

McMurray actually pushed for the arrangement after racing in both series six times last year. When Ganassi needed an injury replacement for Sterling Marlin, he gave McMurray the ride.

The result was one Winston Cup victory for Ganassi and two Busch Series wins for Brewco Motorsports while learning a ton about the tracks and the cars.

"When I had the opportunity to drive the 40 car (Marlin's), I realized how much it helped me," McMurray said. "I think it helps everybody. I think some of those drivers act like it doesn't, but I think it's a huge advantage, especially for a guy like me who doesn't have a lot of time at some of these race tracks.

"Even though you put yourself in a tough situation of maybe getting hurt on Saturday, you take that chance on Sunday also. I just felt the gains from getting to run the Busch race - it was going to help me more than it would ever hurt me.

Rain reversed the schedule at Rockingham, with McMurray getting a perfect lesson on tire management and hitting his marks with his strong run in the 400-mile Cup race.

When he came back Monday in a strong car, the rest of the field never had a chance in the 200-mile event.

"It was so fast at the beginning on long runs and short runs," McMurray said. "I was almost scared to do anything because it was so good and you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot over making a good car bad."

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