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

INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

Follow @JerryBonkowski