McMurray Relishes Talladega Challenge
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Jamie McMurray wasn’t sure what to think when he first visited Talladega Superspeedway.
McMurray had never driven on a restrictor-plate track until he was in his mid 20s. His first trip to Talladega for a test session left McMurray overwhelmed at the track’s expansiveness, but he wasn’t intimidated by it.
“I just remember going there and knowing that you could run wide open around the track, and I had never been to a track that you could do that at,” McMurray said.
“It’s so hard to get used to, whether it was in the late models or doing the (Camping World) Trucks, that you can run around a track and not ever let off.
“It’s just hard to conceive that you could do that and that it would stick good enough. It takes a while to realize that it’s real. It’s so much fun to be able to run around a place like that flat out and not have to let off.”
Some 14 years later, Talladega’s high banks are old hat to McMurray.
Two of the 37-year-old’s seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins are at Talladega, including his most recent triumph last October. McMurray also has a 2007 win at Daytona Int’l Speedway on his résumé, so restrictor-plate tracks fit McMurray’s patient driving style.
Things weren’t always so easy, though. McMurray finished in the top 15 only once in his first five Talladega Sprint Cup starts. He’s gotten a reputation for being in the right place at the right time at the series’ largest track. It came from learning not to make every aggressive move. Picking his spots has given McMurray plenty of success at Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. called McMurray one of the sport’s best restrictor-plate drivers last year.
The affable Chip Ganassi Racing driver heads to Talladega for the May 3 Aaron’s 499 ranked 19th in Sprint Cup points. He’s led 10 laps and has two top-10s in nine starts this season.
If there’s a track suitable to turn around his season, McMurray believes Talladega is as good as any for him. The repave the circuit underwent in 2006 made the track faster and more to McMurray’s liking.
“It’s got so much more grip than what it had before the repave,” McMurray said. “When we did the plate races before, you could run like 15 laps and handling started becoming an issue, and now there’s so much grip that it’s a little bit different.”
He’s overcome the changing track conditions and some initial uneasiness to post six top-fives at Talladega. A seventh, McMurray hopes, will come in his next try.
His first reactions to Talladega, however, rarely stray from McMurray’s mind.
“It’s a thrilling place to go to for the first time,” he said. “To run around there by yourself is exciting initially, but then when you run around and you’re in the middle of a 30- or a 40‑car pack and you’re right in the middle lane in the middle of the pack, that gets your attention,” McMurray said.
“It certainly requires a lot of focus.”