News & Media

From the notebook: McMurray, Busch try new endeavors

March 17, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Only time will tell if 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray would consider becoming a candidate for IndyCar's $5 million bonus to win its 2011 season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But McMurray made the first potential baby step in that direction Wednesday when he made a handful of laps -- including one spinout -- in a Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park, a road course located outside Birmingham.

" I couldn't believe how quickly the car took off. I never really pushed it very hard in the corners to get the feel of how much grip it has, for fear that I'd lose my other job if I happened to run off. "


It was an eye opener in a lot of ways for McMurray, who got his racing start in karts and is still a serious karter -- to the point he races a kart he designed and built, himself.

"The acceleration of that [Indy] car was way more than I expected, because the horsepower is less than the Cup cars [so] I thought that the acceleration would be a fair bit less," McMurray said. "But that was really fun to drive. I couldn't believe how quickly the car took off. I never really pushed it very hard in the corners to get the feel of how much grip it has, for fear that I'd lose my other job if I happened to run off. It's crazy at the amount of grip that car has."

With temperatures in Alabama hovering in the low-40s, McMurray did have one little "oops."

"It was the slowest corner on the track, and I was just trying to go a little quicker," McMurray said. "The car wanted to spin the tires really badly right there, and I probably didn't give it enough time to get the tires warmed up enough. If I had to choose somewhere to spin out [at Barber], that was a really good selection, because it didn't cost anything."

McMurray said he adjusted easily to being out in the open with the open-cockpit car, but that he had other issues that couldn't be addressed in the limited number of laps he had on a day when he drove Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon's car at Barber and Dixon drove McMurray's Chevrolet stock car at Talladega in a cross-promotional event for the respective facility's upcoming events.

"The hardest adjustment was just knowing how hard you can push, and what the limits are of sliding the car," McMurray said. "When we run Watkins Glen or Sonoma [in Cup cars], the whole race is about sliding around the corners. After spinning out at about 30 mph over there, I was really timid to push the car any harder in the fast corners.

"I'm just glad they called me in, because I kept picking up about two seconds a lap. At some point that ends, and you end up dropping a wheel off the track. But I couldn't believe how much more comfortable I got in the car. The sensation of speed was more in acceleration and braking. The cornering did not feel that much faster, even though it was. The car had so much grip and so much control that when you're going around a corner 30 miles per hour faster than you could in a Cup car, I didn't sense the speed there."

Kurt Busch appreciates drags

No matter how you look at it, Kurt Busch's NHRA Pro Stock debut last weekend in the Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway was a success.

In a 21-car field, Busch overcame some early-run jitters and made the elite, 16-car field for the elimination rounds. And even though he lost in the first round to five-year veteran Erica Enders, Busch's stats were impressive.

Busch's reaction time in leaving the starting line was only 10th-best of the 16 competitors, but his ETA of 6.541 seconds was tied for fifth-best -- with such notables as four-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson and the class's new ET record-holder Roger Brogdon. And Busch's Dodge, which was prepared by Alan Johnson's team, posted the seventh-best top speed in the round, 211.59 mph.

Anyone familiar with drag racing wouldn't be surprised that Busch's major impressions came from the fans, and his fellow competitors.

"It was such a great time that I had there with the fans," Busch said. "The sponsors, the way they get their solid advertising in the NHRA world is with the open paddock. A lot of times you see the way that fans can interact with the midway, the grandstands are right there. You file out of the grandstands [and] then you have the perfect pit-area-type atmosphere. It's just a matter of putting the action right in front of the fans. I think that's the most important key element between the two different series.

"It was an incredible experience [with his competitors]. Everybody was welcoming us into their group. The fraternity of drivers was encouraging us, offering advice, trying to help us. It was really a unique feeling to be the new guy but also to be the one with the notoriety from the Sprint Cup Series, and the excitement level for the energy of everybody there. Even Jason Line, the guy that's won [twice] so far this year, came up to me and said, 'Thank you for being part of our division and shedding light on the Pro Stock division.

"You come with a lot more weight than you know, and anything you need, I'm here for advice.' It was great to see everything come full circle."

Although Busch wouldn't commit to when his next drag race might occur, the event had made a definite impact.

"The satisfaction of the whole event, to me, was after the first round," Busch said. "Yes, we were eliminated [but] I think it was an honorable defeat. It was a respectable defeat, a loss we can hold our heads up about. When you look at the first round of the eight matches, we would have beat half the field after our first round with reaction time and elapsed time.

"It was something that the left lane was handicapped a little bit with the grip. Not many guys ran very well in the left lane. That's the thing. You want to be in the top half of the ladder so you have lane choice. There's so many little things that go into drag racing, it's very easy to chair quarterback it, look at what we did wrong. All in all, I thought it was a great weekend with our Shell Dodge in the Pro Stocker."

Front Row crew chief change

Front Row Motorsports this week became the first full-time Sprint Cup team to make a crew chief change, as the team's competition director, engineer Derrick Finley stepped-in to replace Bill Henderson as crew chief on Travis Kvapil's No. 34 Ford on an interim basis until the team can hire a full-time replacement.

Wood Brothers' schedule

As they've said from the start, Wood Brothers Racing continues to scramble after sponsorship to enable their team, which began the season with a stunning Daytona 500 victory with rookie Trevor Bayne, to continue racing.

The Woods posted their schedule through the end of May on their Facebook page, and it includes the first eight races of the season, including Texas and Talladega, before skipping Richmond and Dover, the races that bookend Darlington.

The team also said it currently plans to skip the Sprint All-Star Race, unless it can procure sponsorship.

T.J. Bell steps up

One of the highlights of the fifth annual Skinner Round-up Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway, was Camping World Truck Series driver T.J. Bell stepping-up, to the tune of $5,200, in an auction that was held as part of the fund-raising event for a number of Volusia County, Fla., charities.

Bell, who told some entertaining tales of his time in karting as a teammate to current Indy car driver and NASCAR neophyte Danica Patrick while racing against Scott Speed and Burney Lamar, among other current-day NASCAR pilots; was the high bidder for a Ron Hornaday VFW driver uniform and matching, signed die-cast truck ($1,700) and a trip for two to this fall's Sprint Cup weekend (including a Scottsdale, Ariz., golf package) at Phoenix ($3,500).

Crawford takes next step

NASCAR veteran driver and team owner Rick Crawford, who saw a lengthy Truck Series consecutive starts streak end in 2010, had a rough start to 2011 with a couple Truck DNQs. Crawford is in no way done with the sport, though.

Crawford has entered into a multi-year agreement to manage and promote Mobile International Speedway in Mobile, Ala., the facility where Crawford's driving career began several decades ago, driving for car owners Lee and Ida Fields.

"I am truly humbled that Ida Fields has chosen me to take over her and Lee's baby," Crawford said a news release. "Growing up, I thought winning at Daytona was just a dream and that dream came true [and now] another dream has become a reality. We've got a lot of work to do and I hope our fans and racers will be patient with us as we get started."

Crawford's driving career isn't over, either. At the very least he has some races on tap in a Super Late Model car in which Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio host Dave Moody is a partner. Mike Skinner and Danny Bohn are among others who will see some seat time in the LM car.

Craig Rust back at track

Motorsports executive Craig Rust, who had plenty of experience at NASCAR facilities as president of Watkins Glen, Chicagoland Speedway and Nazareth Speedway, was named president this week of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and The Mid-Ohio School.

Rust, who got his motorsports start with Roger Penske's company and was involved with them in the creation of Auto Club Speedway, was also named vice president and general manager of Green Savoree Mid-Ohio, LLC. Its principals, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, were previously involved in Andretti Green Racing with Michael Andretti.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.