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Roush Shouldn’t Kick Himself For Letting McMurray Go

[1]In the 2009 season, Jack Roush had a difficult decision to make. He had to trim his five-car team down to four cars to get under the NASCAR-mandated team limit. Initially, the thought was that one of the team’s drivers would move to Yates Racing, which has a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

But, in July of 2009, DeWalt announced it was leaving RFR [2] and Matt Kenseth. A few days later, Jamie McMurray was given permission to talk to other teams [3] about a ride for 2010, but RFR was still looking to keep him. The thought was that Crown Royal would move from McMurray’s car to Kenseth’s car [4], but if sponsorship could be found for McMurray, he would move to Yates.

About a month later, Irwin Industrial Tools announced it was leaving the team [5] and McMurray, which only increased the likelihood that he would not stay with the team.  Shortly thereafter, Yates merged with Richard Petty Motorsports [6], which brought that team to the four-car limit, eliminating any space for an RFR driver.

Without sponsorship for the car, and no place for one of the teams to move, it became inevitable that one team would be cut. Based on performance, McMurray and David Ragan were the logical choices. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth were all considered “safe” because they were consistently top performers.

Ragan and McMurray, however, both struggled. McMurray did have two wins to his credit, but he also had 43 finishes of 30th or worse in four years (144 races) with RFR. Ragan, meanwhile, had 28 finishes of 30th or worse in three years (110 races) with RFR, which would translate to 37 finishes of 30th or worse in 144 races, assuming Ragan kept up his pace.

Statistically, McMurray would have been the wiser choice to keep. He had better percentages of wins, top 5s, and top 10s. He won about one percent of the races he ran. He finished in the top 5 in 7.6% of races ran, and in the top 10 in 22.2% of races ran. Ragan, however, never won, and finished in the top 5 7.2% of the time and in the top 10 17.2% of the time.  

But, Ragan had solid sponsorship from UPS and there was no indication that they were unhappy with Ragan. He was also under contract with RFR, while McMurray’s contract was expiring. So, he became the odd man out. He left the team and joined Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 team [7]. McMurray and owner Chip Ganassi worked together from 2002-2005, and McMurray won his first race (in his second start) in a Ganassi car. For Ganassi, I’m sure the signing was a no-brainer.

Looking at McMurray’s recent success, it’s easy to say that Jack Roush made a mistake letting him go. With wins in two of the biggest races of the year, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, McMurray has not only solidified himself in the history books, but he’s shown the entire Sprint Cup garage that he’s a legitimate competitor week in and week out.

This season, McMurray has posted two wins, six top 5s, and seven top 10s. He was also very close to winning at Talladega, Darlington, and Charlotte, finishing second in each of those races.

In four years with RFR, he posted two wins, 11 top 5s, and 32 top 10s. In 20 races with EGR he has matched his win total at RFR, and is more than half way on his way to matching his total number of top 5s. Let that sink in.

If we were to assume that McMurray keeps up this pace over the next four years – which is highly unlikely, I know – that would mean he would post 14 wins, 43 tops 5s, and 50 top 10s in 144 races. RFR would certainly be happy with those numbers. So, it’s easy to assume Roush must be kicking himself for letting McMurray go.

But, I don’t think he is (or at least he shouldn’t be.)

McMurray had an expiring contract and no sponsor. Who’s to say McMurray would have re-signed with Roush without knowing if a seat was available? That scenario was more unlikely when EGR’s No. 1 became available, since I think McMurray wanted the chance to work with Ganassi again.

Statistically, and from a fan perspective, McMurray is a better driver than Ragan, but that doesn’t mean that sponsors agree. Ultimately UPS would have had to sign off on replacing Ragan with McMurray, and I’m not certain that they were prepared to do that.

Also, McMurray’s success with EGR and Kevin “Bono” Manion this season is the result of team chemistry – everything clicking. It’s highly unlikely that McMurray would have the same success with a different crew chief at RFR, which is current struggling as an organization.

We also can’t forget that Roush didn’t want to let McMurray go. He was looking for ways to keep him, but he couldn’t find a way.

In retrospect, letting McMurray go was a mistake. But, it isn’t one that Jack Roush should be kicking himself over.