INTERVIEW: Jamie McMurray on his transition from racer to analyst

Image courtesy of Fox Sports

INTERVIEW: Jamie McMurray on his transition from racer to analyst

NASCAR

INTERVIEW: Jamie McMurray on his transition from racer to analyst

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For the first time in 17 years, Jamie McMurray will not be a part of the Daytona 500. At least from behind the wheel.

McMurray, who was in the field from 2003-19, will still have a presence Sunday afternoon on the Fox pre-race show alongside Chris Myers and Jeff Gordon. The trio will be positioned on what’s called the “stadium desk” to preview the 62nd Daytona 500 and the year to come.

After wrapping up his full-time driving career in 2018, McMurray ran the Daytona 500 last season as a one-off event. But his main role these days is as an analyst for NASCAR Race Hub and the Cup Series pre-race shows as a member of the Fox Sports family.

Before McMurray arrived in Daytona for the action, he sat down with  RACER to discuss the season-opening race and his involvement.

RACER: What does it mean to have the opportunity to be on the Daytona 500 broadcast?

Jamie McMurray: “It’s really special. Gosh, you just never know where life is going to take you, and a year ago when I started my relationship with Fox, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to enjoy TV and it’s turned out …. I really enjoy it. My wife will tell you that I have a real job all of a sudden. I’ve kind of embraced taking on other projects. We’ve got some stuff coming out this year with some cool animation videos to explain simple things like drafting or dirty air. Jeff [Gordon] started asking me about it at one of our meetings we had in the beginning of the year, and one video has turned into about eight, and I’ve really enjoyed every aspect of it, whether it’s doing Race Hub or this year getting to contribute to the broadcast. I like it because I want to tell my version of what I see, and I hope that people will enjoy maybe a different perspective.”

You seem to have grown more comfortable analyzing the whole sport where last year you were getting used to having to worry about more than only what you had going on as a driver.

“When you’re right out of the car, your dialogue is so complex that most of the things I would say, they’re like, ‘You have to dumb that down (because) nobody’s going to know what you’re saying.’ It’s taken about a year, and I had a conversation with my wife (recently) about, ‘Well, you should explain this,’ and I was telling her the idea is — especially for the Daytona 500, because we have so many people who watch that race that don’t watch every weekend — you have to explain things in fairly simple terms. So, I’ve gotten to that point now where I catch myself — ‘OK, I’ve got to change the way I’m going to explain this so that my mom can understand or my sister can understand.’”

What are your early expectations for being on the stadium desk and how that is going to feel?

“I did the desk last year for the Xfinity race, and I believe it’s something similar. But the difference between Xfinity Series morning and Daytona 500 morning is a completely different vibe. I’m not nervous, but I’m extremely excited to get out there. When we do the pre-race at the studio it’s definitely a different vibe than what you have when you’re going to be in the middle of thousands and thousands of race fans, right there with the racetrack behind you. I’m super excited about getting to do that. Jeff’s going to be out there with me and so I’m looking forward to it.

“My friendship with Jeff has grown so much over the last year. Someone asked me about how close Jeff and I were, and I told them, ‘Well, I spent almost an hour with him on the phone the other night discussing the Clash and what we saw, and what we think will be important to tell the viewers.’”

Has it been weird not preparing for the Daytona 500 as a driver after being in the race for so many years?

“It’s not weird, it’s just different. But what I’ll tell you and what I’ve told everybody at the TV studio is that when the season is over, even in TV-land, you take a little break just like the race teams do and then the week after the new year it starts up and it’s been really crazy. Everybody’s been preparing and trying to get everything done for Daytona and get the year started. Everyone has their projects that they’ve been working on that you want to have for the Daytona 500. The (actions) between what goes on at the TV studio and what goes on when you’re a driver have been very similar, so it’s not been weird, it’s just been different because I have been extremely busy in preparing for the season and for the Daytona 500 just like I would have as a driver. I’m just preparing for different roles.”

What do you anticipate the storylines will be on the Daytona 500 broadcast, or what do you personally think the storylines are?

“The last four or five races for Fox (its portion of the schedule), not that you struggle with storylines but you’re like, ‘OK, we’ve kind of exhausted a lot of them,’ and now, Daytona, I can probably give you a list of about 100. I think that one of the big storylines is the fact that we’re going to have guys like Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have their first Daytona 500 start and then the other end of that is Jimmie Johnson might be making his last. Kyle Busch, he’s checked every box in our sport just about, but a Daytona 500. Is he going to be able to check that box? He ran second last year; he’s been really close.

“I think that we’re going to discuss blocking, because that is the word of the weekend, and it’s nothing new, but it’s a little different now. Drafting changes with every rules package — whether it’s tandem, bump, or the blocking now. I’ve got to believe we’re going to talk about blocking at some point.”

Chip Ganassi and McMurray shared the winning Daytona 500 moment in 2010. Image by LAT

As a former Daytona winner, including the Daytona 500, what does Daytona mean to you? Do you feel the prestige and that it’s a special place?

“Absolutely, and I can’t express to you how much more important the Daytona 500 became to me after winning. Everybody wants to win that growing up. You dream of winning the Daytona 500, and really, even once you get to Cup, you still are like, ‘I want to win the Daytona 500.’ But there’s such a limited amount of people that get to. Once you win it and you get to experience everything — I mean, it’s been 10 years since I won the Daytona 500 but people still talk to me about it all the time. When I meet, whether it’s sponsors or people through Fox, I get introduced, ‘Oh, this is Jamie McMurray, and oh, Jamie won the Daytona 500 in 2010.’ It’s amazing how that sticks to your name.

“Daytona was always special to me, too, because I remember going there I think in 1990 or 1991 and I won a go-kart race at Daytona and it was like, for my family and I at the time, it was the biggest thing I’d ever done. Even though it’s a go-kart, it’s a huge deal. It’s no different for Supercross or for the motorcycles that are there or Trucks. It doesn’t matter what you go and race at Daytona, you want to win there. Gosh, I’ve got to win there in a Rolex car. I got to win both Cup races, July and February. I’ve won there about four or five times in karting. It’s just that whole town, everything. I know it sounds so corny, but that whole feeling of driving through the tunnel … that is an amazing feeling every time.”

The Daytona 500 will air Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox. Pre-race coverage will begin at 11 a.m. on Fox Sports 1 and transition to Fox at 1 p.m.

 

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