“It's very hard to go around and meet everybody,” McMurray said. “You know, I want to be friends with everybody. I want to know everybody, and I had that relationship at Ganassi, so when I went to Roush, I wanted to be able to keep that - and you just can't.”
If establishing relationships proved more difficult, so was performance on the racetrack. With Ganassi and partner Felix Sabates, McMurray had won at Charlotte in 2002 in his second Cup start, subbing for injured Sterling Marlin.
His second career win didn't come until July 2007, when he beat Kyle Busch to the finish line at Daytona by .005 seconds. McMurray didn't get his third victory until November 1 of last year at Talladega, but by then, he knew he was the odd-man out in a NASCAR-mandated reduction from five teams to four at Roush Fenway Racing.
The victory, however, helped convince Johnny Morris, owner of sponsor Bass Pro Shops, that McMurray was the right driver to succeed Martin Truex Jr. - bound for Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the season - as the company's face in NASCAR racing.
Ganassi welcomed him back to a team that had made the Chase in 2009 with open-wheel star Juan Pablo Montoya. On his return to what had evolved into Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, McMurray galvanized his #1 Chevrolet team. He and crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion clicked as soon as they talked for the first time.
“People talk about the cars and the engines, but what is a very powerful thing in sports - in all sports - is a team,” Ganassi said after Monday's traditional champion's breakfast for the Daytona 500 winner. “You just can't get a bunch of people and throw them together. That's the fun thing about having Jamie come back. We knew he was a team player.
“These teams are a delicate balance of people, and Jamie brings things together when he comes around. He's always in a good mood. He's always up, and that's a big thing - you need that in this sport.”
Though McMurray is perhaps better equipped to appreciate what he has at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing the second time around, he would be loath to change the past.
“I wouldn't take it back,” McMurray said with conviction. “My time at Roush - I enjoyed that. I would not want anyone to take away that it was horrible. I enjoyed being at Roush - I really did - and Jack became a really good friend of mine. That took three or four years to get all that going.
“If you say exactly what you believe, that's what he wants. It took me awhile to figure that out. I made great relationships, and I learned a lot. I learned that, just because you go and drive for a huge, super race team, it doesn't guarantee success.