Humility, loyalty and emotion are just as big a part of Jamie McMurray as being a good racer

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As uplifting as Jamie McMurray’s win Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star Race was, even more heartwarming was the emotion the Missouri driver showed after the race.

The tears that welled up in his eyes, the hitch in his voice when he got choked up, and the honest and satisfied smile on McMurray’s face weren’t because he won $1 million.

On the contrary, they were pure, raw and unadulterated joy of someone celebrating a job well done.

And that indeed is what McMurray did so well Saturday. Even though the outcome didn’t affect his current 24th place ranking in the Sprint Cup standings, and even though the win didn’t help qualify him for the revamped and expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup, you likely would not have found greater joy, enjoyment or appreciation for what McMurray did then himself.

“It means something here,” team owner Chip Ganassi said of Charlotte Motor Speedway in the post-race media conference. “There’s something a little special about the All-Star Race, too, I think, that nobody is out there points racing. It’s hammer down there with 10 to go. I think we saw a special kind of racing tonight, and we’re all very lucky to see that.”

McMurray is the kind of guy parents want their daughters to marry. He’s honest, down to earth and, most importantly, humble. And it’s that kind of humility that have left McMurray as one of the most well-liked and most respected drivers in the Sprint Cup garage.

For you know when you talk to him, or when you see him express himself emotionally like he did Saturday (as well as in several other key race wins he’s had in his career), you know it’s coming from the heart. It’s not contrived, fake or a false attempt to get attention.

“He said to me in victory lane tonight, ‘We’ve won a lot of great races together, haven’t we?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have.’ You know, it was kind of special for him to think of that, as well, because he’s that kind of guy. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver.”

McMurray now adds one of the biggest race wins any driver can earn to an already burgeoning stable that includes a past triumph in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the fall Chase race at Talladega.

And while he’s had his struggles this season, with just two top-10 finishes in the first 11 races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, McMurray personifies the human element that NASCAR officials like to boast about so much.

Not only is McMurray a devoted husband and great father, when he is at his best behind the wheel of a race car, he’s very hard to beat.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason – be it mechanical, wrecks or just a horrendous spate of bad luck – McMurray hasn’t had a whole lot of instances where he was hard to beat.

But there’s more to him than just being a race car driver. He represents himself and his race team well. As I mentioned earlier, he represents great family values. He also represents what hard work – and particularly not burning bridges – can do for you.

When McMurray left Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006 for Roush Racing, it was primarily because McMurray felt he’d have a better chance at success driving a Ford.

Unfortunately, that situation went four seasons but just didn’t quite pan out the way everyone had hoped it would. As it turned out, McMurray wound up being released by Roush.

But because he never burned any bridges with Ganassi, because he didn’t badmouth anyone at his old team, one of the biggest rarities in motorsports, particularly NASCAR, occurred: Ganassi brought McMurray back for a second go-round.

That kind of thing is virtually unheard of. It’d be like Roush or Roger Penske asking Kurt Busch to come back to their old stomping grounds. It just isn’t going to happen.

But McMurray is such a loyal soldier, someone who it’s hard to believe ever has a bad word to say about anyone, that he’s a credit to an organization more so as a man than a driver. He exudes an air that the average fan not only likes, but finds refreshing and compelling.

McMurray is also loyal, almost to a fault. Like a puppy, he never forgets those who have done well by him. Not only is he forever in their debt, he also respects and appreciates what others do for him, such as Ganassi.

And that is not overlooked.

“It’s nice to have a validation from time to time of your MO,” Ganassi said after the race. “It’s nice to ring the cash register, if you will, from time to time in this business to let you know that you can still do it, and the way that you operate the business, the way you motivate your team, the components you put together, the people, all those pieces that have to come together. Sports teams are a very delicate balance of personalities and equipment, and it’s nice, like I said, to validate that from time to time.”

Whoever said you can’t go back home again doesn’t know the special relationship that McMurray and Ganassi has. Sure, it’s steeped in racing, but that’s only a small part of a bigger, broader and more important picture.

“The thing about Chip with me is he’s my car owner, but since I came back in 2010 Chip is one of my best friends,” McMurray said. “When we talk during the week on the phone, we talk a little bit about racing, but we talk more about families and anything but racing.

“I’m so glad that Chip and Felix (team minority owner Felix Sabates) are here and I get to share this with them because they were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.

“Chip is somewhat unique I feel like in racing in general because most car owners have a separate business, and they don’t depend on racing to put food on the table, where Chip is all about racing. You know, he did a book a while back of his hundred wins, and I got to be a part of that, and when I look back at some of the memories of my racing career, almost all of them I’ve experienced with him, and that’s really special to me.

“When I pulled into (victory lane and) got up on the stage, I gave him a hug, and I’m like, ‘Man, we get to have another one of these incredible memories together.’ It’s a great relationship, and I feel so blessed to get to share that with he and Felix.

“It’s tough when things are going bad, but I’ve got to live some of the greatest victories that you can have in this sport. It’s unbelievable.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”