Jamie McMurray speaks during a news conference after qualifying for the pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race in Sonoma, Calif., in June.
INDIANAPOLIS — When Jamie McMurray took a break from testing at Indianapolis and walked over with a smile, it seemed fitting.
The 37-year-old driver knows this could be the track where he finally turns things around.
After winning just once in 105 races, finishing in the top five only three times and winning just two poles in the last 2½ seasons, he figures it’s about time something goes right.
“Our year has been really good, we've just not been able to finish,” McMurray said after testing Monday on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval. “Speed-wise we’ve been good all year.”
Three years ago, McMurray reached Victory Lane three times, earned $7.6 million, took four poles, finished in the top five nine times, and the top 10 12 times. All were career highs.
That was only part of McMurray’s incredible 2010 story. He joined Dale Earnhardt in 1996 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006 as the only Cup drivers to pull off the double of winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year, and it gave team owner Chip Ganassi a previously unprecedented triple crown with wins at Daytona, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard in the same year.
Since then, McMurray has seemed jinxed.
Whether it was the blown tire at Michigan, the punctured radiator at Dover, the broken radiator at Charlotte, or getting caught up in a crash at Daytona, something has always gone awry.
The result: McMurray heads to Daytona this weekend hoping to end a 94-race winless skid that dates to a 2010 win in Charlotte.
There are signs that the slump is fading.
Two weeks ago at Sonoma, McMurray earned his first pole in more than two years.
Last weekend, he finally caught a break late in the race at Kentucky, sneaking past Johnson after Johnson spun, and pulling away from Clint Bowyer to hold on to second place. It was only his third top-five finish in 2½ seasons and his best since that Oct. 16, 2010, win in Charlotte.
Now comes Daytona, where he has seven top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts, including the warm-up races to the 500. After going to New Hampshire next weekend, where McMurray has traditionally struggled, he’ll take a weeklong beach vacation with his wife and children before heading to Indy, one of his favorite tracks in the series.
Here, McMurray has five top-seven finishes in 10 career starts, and his average finish at Indy (13.0) ranks second on his personal chart behind only Bristol (12.0). Plus, after testing Monday, McMurray sounded confident that he could make things work on the oval, even if the July 28 race are likely to be much warmer than they were this week in Indy.
“Obviously it would be better if it was 100 degrees today because this is one of the hottest races we’ll run this year,” McMurray said. “Being cool, you’re not going to learn a whole lot, but it's been good.”
McMurray is hoping he can, finally, get things turned around after so many tough races.
“Indy is at or near the top,” McMurray said when asked about the best place to win. “It’s special, and I think being able to win here in 2010 really was one of the highlights of my career.”