Jamie McMurray ready for next stage of his career

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 27: Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 DC Solar Chevrolet, is interviewed in the garage area after an on track incident during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 27, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Sitting in his Chip Ganassi Racing team hauler two days before making his final scheduled Monster Energy NASCAR Cup start in last Sunday’s Daytona 500, Jamie McMurray was simultaneously sentimental about putting his driving career to rest and excited about picking up the television microphone for the foreseeable future.

Hoisting a Daytona 500 trophy and kissing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bricks after his Brickyard 400 victory only a couple months later (2010 season) will do that to you.  McMurray scored his first Cup win faster than anyone in NASCAR history – winning in only his second start – at Charlotte’s 2002 Coca-Cola 600 subbing at Chip Ganassi Racing for an injured Sterling Marin. When McMurray won, he won big.

There are a lot of these positive reflections in McMurray’s rearview mirror – including a 2015 Rolex 24 victory in addition to his seven NASCAR triumphs in some of NASCAR’s biggest races. But the 43-year old Missouri native appears all-in and excited about his next challenge as FOX television broadcaster too.

As he learns the new job, McMurray acknowledges it may initially take him a bit out of his comfort zone. But he recognizes that and seems genuinely excited about having the opportunity to not only remain a part of the sport, but to share his insight on it.

“I kind of always thought it was something I wanted to do,’’ McMurray said. “I did the two (FOX Sports) RaceHub (shows) toward the end of the year when I thought this could happen and it was just super enjoyable. Probably the first thing they told me was, ‘you’re here to tell everyone your opinion, but it’s also about having fun and having a good time.’

“TV is a way different environment than driving and when I saw that, I realized that could be a really good time and something you could have a really good career at. I was super excited I was able to get something put together with them.”

To a certain extent, McMurray says the opportunity to watch races and delve deeper into the personalities of competitors reminds him of why he first fell in love with the sport as a young boy.

“I’m most looking forward to becoming a fan again,’’ McMurray said. “When you’re involved in the races every weekend you don’t watch them because you’re in them. You don’t get to keep up with the story like you do when you’re outside the car and the perspective is different.

“I’m a huge racing fan. I get involved in the stories playing along now. I’m looking forward to watching the races whether it’s at the FOX studios or at home. My little boy (Carter) is eight and he loves NASCAR. I look forward to watching those with him and being a fan again.”

McMurray acknowledges that “fan” mentality will keep him inherently interested in what’s going on, but what FOX and its viewers are equally as enthusiastic about is McMurray’s opportunity to share insight and perspective.

For example, he laughs now thinking about drivers being asked to come to the track’s mobile studio during a rain delay. What may have appeared a mundane request is actually an essential part of helping the broadcast along in a situation like bad weather. It’s the ole “making lemonade out of lemons” that live TV mandates.

“I get now while you need people to talk more, you need content,’’ McMurray said laughing. “So I get that side of it now. It’s been really interesting on the TV side, joking with some of the guys that do rain delays. There’s nothing to talk about. I get now that they need you to come out and talk about nothing, just come out and talk.

“So we’re grateful for the Clint Bowyers of the world.’’

The genuine excitement for his new venture is evident in McMurray’s face and in his voice.  The tough part, he concedes, was contemplating the thought of never racing again – something he has done, and done well, since he was a child.

But having this outlet to remain in the sport seems to be the best of both worlds. And McMurray – who is one of only 31 drivers in history to win in all three of NASCAR’s premier levels – is both at peace with his new career track and eager to succeed. Success is something he knows a lot about.

“The opportunity came along and I’m so excited about it now,’’ McMurray said. “I’ve watched my [retired driver] friends say they are done and three months later they are driving something else. I thought forever that I’d race and when I was done racing, I’d never work again.  That was the mentality I had. But when the racing is over, I now realized I wanted something to do, a goal to wake up to everyday.

“Here’s what I appreciate about TV that’s different than driving,’’ McMurray continued. “The harder you work at it, the better you get at it. The more time taking notes and doing research the better you appear and it’s solely based on you. Where driving a car, you can watch the most films, be the most athletic guy but there’s a lot of variables, other people on the track, engines that can blow, pit stops, just a lot of variables.

“You can lead the whole race and blow a tire on the last lap. And when you go home, no one cares you led the whole race but didn’t win. So I’m excited about being able to work hard and get the reward from it.”

Greg Engle