Our weekly series of interviews continues: 12 questions with NASCAR drivers who aren't currently in the top 12 of the Sprint Cup Series. Since the Chase drivers already get plenty of publicity, we thought this would be a good way to get to know some of the non-Chase drivers a little better. This week: Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
What's the best race you've ever driven?
JM: I guess I'll say Daytona (this year) because that's the most recent one. Or Charlotte, probably, when I won in 2002, because that was a lot more pressure than Daytona was and because that's such a different type of racing than superspeedways. I think we led the last 60 laps or whatever, and Bobby Labonte was literally a second behind me for the entire time. I had to make a green-flag pit stop, and I'd never made a green-flag pit stop, ever. So there was a lot going on there.
Who is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
JM: Tony Stewart. He's raced so many different things and has been successful at all of them. A winner, literally, in everything.
If you were to advise a new driver by telling them one driver they should learn from and one they shouldn't, who would those people be?
JM: I'd say Jeff Gordon would be a good one to learn from, because he's been around for a long time and he always seems to be able to put himself in a good position. He seems to make the fewest amount of mistakes. Very calm. The person not to learn from? Probably Kyle (Busch). Only because of his temper – I think that's hurt him a little bit.
When is the best time for a fan to approach you for an autograph at the track?
JM: It's different every single weekend. I think if you're walking very fast, that's probably not a good time. I think you can read people and people know. But at the same time I understand that might be their one time, maybe they've never been to a race. I try to be really sympathetic toward that. I've witnessed someone get shot down at other sporting events, and I think for the drivers, sometimes we forget that's the one time that their 10th cousin's brother got them a pit pass. So you try to be sympathetic, but then there's other times when you're so mad and things aren't going right. It's not that you don't want to, it's just that it's a really bad time.
What's something people may not know or understand about you?
JM: I'm a germ freak. I'm not big on shaking hands. If I do shake someone's hand, I go wash my hands immediately. I'm just not a hand-shaker. I didn't shake your hand, I don't know if you noticed when I walked in here. I very kindly picked that bag up and set it over there instead; I tend to put myself in a position where I don't have to shake hands. And if I do, I go wash my hands. Mainly because I always watch people and they'll ACHOOO (fake sneezes into hands) and then go, "How are you doing?" And I pay attention to that. SBN: Yeah, or in the bathroom. JM: I wasn't going to say that, but yeah, men especially. If I go to the restroom with somebody and they wash their hands, it really won't bother me to shake that guy's hand. Cause I know that he's conscious of that.
If you ran NASCAR, what's one thing you would change?
JM: I'd bring testing back. A limited amount of testing, maybe a certain amount of days. If you want to run one day in Las Vegas or if you want to run six days in Vegas, you get a certain amount of testing. The teams, we still spend money to go testing, it's just we don't go testing at the tracks we race at. I don't know that we always learn, but we're still spending the money. Even if it was only three tests, or a really small amount, I wish that we could go do testing again.
What driver outside of NASCAR do you most admire?
JM: Jenson Button. That's always been my favorite Formula One driver. I think the guy had won one race with Honda (until last year). I don't know what it was, there's something that drew me. I liked his attitude, I liked everything about him. And then I was so happy for him last year when he got in that no-name car and they ended up winning the championship. I remember when he won those first few races and I was just like, "Well that's just unbelievable." There's the underdog and he's beating the Ferraris and the McLarens. And now he's with McLaren and he's from England, and I just think it's a great story. That's one guy I just always looked up to.
How long do you see your career lasting?
JM: I don't know. I think that's really hard to say. I think Mark Martin is a really good example of someone who got out of it and then was like, "Alright, I'm bored. I'd like to come back and do this." As long as you can be competitive and have fun. I don't think the schedule is as bad as all the media played it out to be for the drivers when I came to Cup racing. And I think they put it in your head when you're a rookie, like, "Oh, it's just so hard." And so you believe that, eventually. It's really not that bad as a driver, especially if you have your own airplane. It's not that bad. There's maybe a lot of appearances and everything, but for me, even all the Bass Pro Shops appearances we've done this year, I look forward to going and doing them. They're kind of fun. The schedule is really not that big of a deal. If you like racing, this is the sport to be in.
What's the first thing you do when you walk in the door after a long race weekend?
JM: Brush my teeth and go to bed. Probably if I haven't seen my dogs (he has two), I'll lay down and play with them for a little while.
Who wins the Sprint Cup in 2015?
JM: I'll say Jimmie Johnson. He'll have a little dry spell and probably come back. SBN: But not in a row? JM: No. No.
Do you have any superstitions?
JM: I used to be really superstitious. I used to think that I had a pair of lucky boxer shorts that I wore, but no, I'm not really big into superstition. Honestly, I am big in prayer. I believe when it's your day, it's your day and when it's not, it's not. As long as you can be safe, that's all that really matters.
Would you rather be known as a great person or a great driver?
JM: Great person. Without a doubt. No doubt. Someone thinking you're a great driver is an opinion that can be based on an era or a time. I think being a great person is what you're put here to do. I don't really care what people think of me as a driver. SBN: Thanks for your time, Jamie (extending hand). JM (looks at it but doesn't shake): Umm... SBN: Oops, sorry! I forgot already. JM (laughs): I thought you were just messing with me.