Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who captured NASCAR's biggest race in his first Sprint Cup Series start with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, met with the media to discuss his triumph. here's the transcript.Now that you've had a chance for it to sink in – thus far, what has been the best part of being the Daytona 500 champion?
JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, for me it's like learning how special this really is. You know, I've told everyone like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick; they all sent me text messages and said, "You need to really enjoy the media tour and everything that goes along with this and make it fun, take pictures, take it all in."
It's just really hard to explain how special all this has been to me. I mean, winning the race was unbelievable, but everything else that goes along with it, whether it's the talk shows or just the media coverage that you get for your team and your sponsor is unbelievable. To listen to the media tell their story of what they were thinking when they were watching the race, it's just been awesome.
The other night, after the race, you said you typically enjoyed the restrictor plate races. I thought I remembered back in the day that you actually kind of hated them when you were first starting out. Can you tell me if that's true, and if your thinking on that as evolved? The fact that you've won three of these now, is there some secret that you picked up along the way or is it just a matter of you knew what you were doing, just staying out of trouble?
JAMIE McMURRAY: To answer the first part, if you interview any driver that's wrecked in a restrictor plate race, you interview them within 20 minutes after being wrecked, they're all going to say they don't like it. There's nothing more frustrating than being caught up in one of the big wrecks we have at Daytona or Talladega when you're trying to stay out of trouble. Typically, they're not someone's fault, it's the circumstances.
If I said that, I would say it's based on being wrecked close after being crashed. Getting to win the three plate races, you know, I've been really lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to get through the race, not get crashed.
I've had three or four of them that I thought I was going to win with four or five laps to go and I didn't. Honestly, with 10 laps to go in the Daytona 500, I didn't think I was going to be able to get to the front. It's just circumstances put me in a good position, then I was able to get the right pushes from other drivers at the right time.
Q. I was wondering what you think the win will do as far as your stature and how people view you both from your fellow drivers within the garage, then the general public as well?
JAMIE McMURRAY: I really don't know. I don't know if that will change or how it might change. I can tell you when you listen to guys who have won the Daytona 500 before and they introduce them as the Daytona 500 champion, I really look forward to that part. That's exciting. It's an honor to get to be in that club or environment with those other drivers.
I got a text message from Dale Jarrett the night of the race, afterward. It was very simple and very short. It said, "Hey, it's D.J. Welcome to the club." I was like, "Wow, what a great text message."
Q. Do you think people will look at you as a more talented driver now or do you feel like you need to win a non-restrictor plate race for that to happen?
JAMIE McMURRAY: Honestly, I don't care. I don't care how they view me as or what they view me as. You get in a racecar as a driver, and you drive your butt off every time you get in it. If you win the race, you win the race. If you don't, you gave it everything you had.
I mean, not to be negative, I just don't care what they think.
Q. The Daytona 500 is like the Kentucky Derby, visible even to people who don't follow NASCAR, including people who say drivers aren't athletes, NASCAR is just left turns, that kind of thing. What can you communicate to that audience, the broader audience, the Regis and Kelly audience, about the demands of the sport?
JAMIE McMURRAY: Are you asking me if you think you're an athlete if you race a car?
Q. There's a lot of the same old jokes about the "Southern" sport, left turns, that kind of stuff. What do you say to people who feel that way?
JAMIE McMURRAY: I mean, everybody has an opinion of that. Does our sport require the same skills as football or baseball? No. I will tell you if you put any other athlete from any other sport in a racecar in Sonoma, Calif., when it's 140 degrees in the car, you tell them to sit in there and drive their heart out for three hours, when they get out, they're going to be as worn out as any sport that you can do.
Certainly there's times when it's easier than other times. It takes a different set of skills. The mental focus and the physical ability is different than other sports. But that's a really hard thing to defend. So, you know, it's tough for me to answer your question there.
Q. Is it all starting to sink in now?
JAMIE McMURRAY: It really is. I think getting to go do David Letterman and Regis and Kelly, when you walk in and you meet them, they will tell you they maybe watched the race, they know who you are immediately, it makes it all real.
I honestly have been to New York before. I've walked around. I don't know that I've ever been recognized. I can't believe in just the 24 hours that I've been here the amount of people who have found me and have brought their USA Today paper up and had me sign it. I can't believe how popular that race is and how, by winning it, how many people realize who you are all of a sudden.
Q. You're going now to a stretch of intermediate tracks where that comprises the bulk of the schedule. Having gotten your first victory on one, how much do you try to build on what you've done at the 500 now that you've moved into another realm?
JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I mean, I'm going to base this on Juan's performance last year at mile-and-a-half tracks, the level of equipment that the EGR cars are right now. I mean, they have a solid setup and they build obviously very fast cars. They have great engines. They have really good setups to go back to all these tracks. I feel like they're developing even better cars right now than what they had last year. That's so important because if you stay where you were last year, you'll be left behind.
I mean, it will be important to run well this weekend. But that [Fontana]'s honestly a really good track for me. I think average finish-wise that's been one of my best tracks. I look forward to getting there. I haven't been in one of their cars on a mile-and-a-half. With the testing we have done at Disney World and New Smyrna, we unloaded at both those places with the setup that the 42 team liked in their previous tests, and the car drove really well for me.
I expect to get to Fontana, be able to unload with the setup that Juan ran last year and be really close. The 42 ran great there last year. I just don't see any reason why we're not going to be able to unload there and be really good.
Q. I know it was a very emotional win for you. It was both in Victory Lane and when you came into the media center. Quite often we don't see that kind of real true emotion out of athletes. I was wondering if you would share what you were thinking about when you were composing yourself, all those things that were going through your mind. Were you thinking about yourself as a little kid, your family? Just share what you were really thinking about then.
JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, to be honest, I was thinking, "You need to stop crying and answer the question" is what was going through my head (laughter). The harder you try, the worse it gets.
But honestly, I mean, I just had running through my head that I just won the Daytona 500. I think the reason I got so emotional is because my wife had brought it up a couple of times earlier in the week, like, "What is it going to mean if you win this race this weekend, if you win the Daytona 500?" You know, I don't know that I had ever asked myself that question before. So, she asked me that a few times leading up to the race. Then we ran really well in the Shootout. You know, we had talked in the bus before the race, "What if we win?" Then all of a sudden it became a reality.
Q. In so many years Chip has always had that question, "What about the NASCAR team?" If you could speak about how he will be grateful not to have to deal with that so much now.
No driver is going to prepare himself for how he's going to feel when he wins America's biggest stock car race. You get out in Victory Lane, and they stick the microphone in your face, and they ask you the question. I just, you know what, had a million things running through my head at once. I thought about Christy asking me that question. I just broke down – It's real, it's actually happening.
JAMIE McMURRAY: I have to say I am happy to give Chip his Daytona 500 victory. Obviously, Juan [Pablo Montoya] I guess has given him the other two wins. So, you know, I mean, to get to have all of us be together and get to be able to do that for Chip, it's really special.
The NASCAR team, when I came there in 2002, they were leading the points. Their NASCAR program was awesome at the time. It certainly had some troubling years. But they have a great group of guys who work at that shop right now. Everyone from, you know, the managers to everyone who works throughout the organization, I mean, they're very focused on getting this to where it needs to be.
I think with Juan making the Chase last year, we started off by winning the Daytona 500, I think his NASCAR program is going to be quite impressive this year.