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Keeping Pace

Great American Dream: McMurray Still Can’t Believe Daytona Win

Jamie McMurray, center, celebrates in Victory Lane with his crew after winning the Daytona 500 by .119 seconds.Associated press (Associated press)
Jamie McMurray, center, celebrates in Victory Lane with his crew after winning the Daytona 500 by .119 seconds.Associated press (Associated press)

One week after winning NASCAR's biggest event-the Daytona 500-Jaime McMurray is still making fans take note of his skills as he grabbed the pole for today's Sprint Cup event at Auto Club Speedway. The last week has been a whirlwind for a driver who many thought would be without a job in 2010. Columnist Cathy Elliott gives a unique look inside the Missouri native that has been the talk of NASCAR heading into its West Coast stop.

Guest Column by Cathy Elliott

Some dreams are so big, and seem so unattainable, that even the dreamer doesn’t believe they can ever come true.
Just ask 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. After the race, McMurray talked about the experience of seeing the checkered flag in front of him ... and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., one of the best superspeedway racers in NASCAR, coming up behind him. Fast.
“To be honest, I was like, ‘Crap,’” he said. “This guy has won a lot of races here; he has incredible history here. I hope this isn’t his turn to win the Daytona 500.
“I hope it’s my turn.”
That’s a great line, and as it turned out, it WAS McMurray’s turn to win the most prestigious event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
But when it’s all said and done, Jamie will be best remembered not for what he said, but for what he couldn’t say, because he was crying too hard.
There is a tremendous difference between things we plan to do and things we dream of doing. Plans take on the personality of achievable goals, usually with some sort of deadline attached. “I’m going to have all the laundry done by the end of the day,” for example, or “I’m going to burn off 500 calories before I leave this gym.”
Dreams, on the other hand, are where we really cut loose. Some people have never seen the ocean, for example, or the Grand Canyon. Airplane pilots can fly, but most of them will never set foot on the moon. Many writers can tell great stories, but most of them will never publish a book.
And race car drivers can drive, but most of them will never win the Daytona 500.
McMurray has established himself as being a very good restrictor plate racer, but he seemed just as surprised by his victory as anyone else, remarking that his wife had asked him earlier in the race week what it would mean for him to win the Daytona 500. He had no answer for her.
“I don’t know that I had ever asked myself that question before,” he said.
It’s fun to dream big, but on those rare occasions when dreams become reality, it can really knock the wind out of your sails. It is impossible to predict what any given person’s reaction will be. In McMurray’s case, it was a spectacularly surprising one.
One of the best race car drivers in the world, a member of NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup Series, completely broke down.

He fell to his knees and kissed the race logo on the infield grass. He buried his face in a towel in Victory Lane and sobbed. A crowd of seasoned reporters sat in respectful silence in the media room, waiting for him to compose himself as he cried on stage.
Under different circumstances, the scene might have provided comic relief for sports shows nationwide, complete with jokes about potential Kleenex sponsorships and such. But the beauty of this particular driver, on this particular day, was that not even the most jaded among us could find anything to laugh about.
Because we were all crying right along with him.
In terms of sports images, Jamie McMurray’s victory in the Daytona 500 will surely go down in history as one of the most emotional moments of 2010. It was raw, and it was real. And like the magic dust of fairy tales, a little bit of it rubbed off on all of us, because we didn’t just sit back and observe it -- we felt it.
I am a huge admirer of Jimmie Johnson, but let’s face it. We have gotten so accustomed to seeing him win that a lot of the thrill is gone.
McMurray did us a huge favor on February 14; his behavior served as a reminder of the thing that attracted us to the sport of NASCAR in the first place -- emotion.
If tears speak where words fail, he pretty much said it all. What a wonderful moment it was, watching a grown man cry.

Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.