Rookie's victory wows NASCAR

Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002

CONCORD, N.C. -- Jamie McMurray was so nervous about racing a Winston Cup car Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway that he had trouble sleeping for a few nights.

''I would find myself getting up at 4 a.m. I was worried. I told my girlfriend, 'I don't want to go to Charlotte, I'm terrible there,' '' McMurray said Sunday after stunning everyone, including himself, by winning the UAW-GM 500 in only his second Cup race in NASCAR's top series.

It was the second shock for the 26-year-old driver in the last two weeks. The first came when team owner Chip Ganassi told him he would replace injured Sterling Marlin for the last seven races.

McMurray was scheduled to move up from the Busch Series next year, but was pressed into service early by Ganassi and team co-owner Felix Sabates.

That was after Marlin -- who led the points much of the season and was still in the tight championship battle -- was sidelined two weeks ago by a fractured vertebra from a crash in Kansas City.

McMurray was winless in a season and a half of racing NASCAR trucks and nearly two full seasons in the Busch Series. His best finish came last month in Richmond, when he finished second.

He already knew he had a ride with the Ganassi-Sabates team for next year when he inquired about Marlin's ride during a visit to the team's shop the Tuesday after the veteran was injured.

''They told me, 'Well, Sterling is out and you are one of the guys we are considering to replace him.'''

McMurray said he was stunned and remained silent. When he left the shop, he worried that the team would pass him over because of his reaction. He tried to call Ganassi, but got his voice mail.

Ganassi called back a few minutes later and Jamie said, ''I don't think I seemed interested to the guys, and I really am. I'd love to be considered, etc.,' and Chip said, 'We've already hired a driver.'

The dejected McMurray asked who it was and Ganassi answered: ''Jamie McMurray.''

So far, so good.

In his debut a week before his big win, McMurray drove to a 26th-place finish in Talladega. Crew chief Lee McCall said it would likely have been a top 10 ''if I hadn't run him out of fuel.''

McMurray wasn't thinking about that Sunday.

''They took a chance on me,'' McMurray said. ''I hadn't won in trucks or Busch. They put me in first-class equipment and I made the most of it tonight.''

McMurray gave up the lead when he made his final pit stop on lap 285. He eventually went back on top after all the other leaders made their green-flag stops.

''With 100 laps to go, I didn't know if we were going to win,'' McMurray said. ''I struggled getting on pit road. I really lost a lot of time there. I didn't want to make a mistake ... and lose a lap or something, so I gave up a little bit there.''

Japanese Grand Prix

SUZUKA, Japan -- Michael Schumacher delivered a perfect ending to a near-perfect season.

Schumacher, who finished among the top three in every race this season, won his third consecutive Japanese Grand Prix for his 11th win of the season. The Ferrari driver has a record 64 victories.

The five-time world champion led a 1-2 finish for Ferrari, with Rubens Barrichello in second. Schumacher was assured the title three months ago with six races remaining. His previous best season was nine wins, which he did three times.

The German started from the pole and covered 53 laps of the 3.6-mile Suzuka circuit in 1 hour, 26 minutes, 59.698 seconds.

Las Vegas 350

LAS VEGAS -- David Starr broke a 65-race winless streak, outdueling NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader Mike Bliss in the Las Vegas 350.

Starr, who started his Chevrolet from the pole, took the lead on the 142nd of 146 laps when Ted Musgrave's Dodge cut a right front tire and headed for pit road.

Starr and Bliss, who also drove a Chevrolet, circled the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway just feet apart over the final four laps. Starr held a lead of about a truck-length beginning the final lap and edged Bliss by 0.492 second -- two lengths.

Bliss extended his points lead to 85 over Rick Crawford. Crawford's Ford finished sixth. Musgrave is third in the standings, followed by Starr.

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