Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray, who won three races last season – including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. McMurray spoke with us recently at Talladega.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
JM: David Reutimann. He doesn't have the personality to be a superstar, but he typically runs better than the other people within his organization. He may not get the finishes, but it seems like he runs the best of that group. I don't know that anyone ever gives him credit for what he does.
SBN: What's a race in your career you didn't win and it still bugs you because you lost it?
JM: Charlotte, last year in May. We led until the last 20 laps, came in and did a two-tire stop – and Kurt (Busch) came out right in front of us, and there was not enough time to get back around him. To me, that's just one of those races you should have won.
SBN: But doesn't that make you a little greedy, since you won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the fall Charlotte race last year?
JM: It's not greedy, it's just the facts!
SBN: Let's say you could be on a four-car Sprint Cup Series team and pick your own teammates, but you can't pick current teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. Who would you choose?
JM: Well, I'd take Matt Kenseth, because I've been his teammate and I think Matt is a good teammate and he's also a good friend of mine.
I'd take Jeff Burton, because I think Jeff is a really big team player and seems to be really into his cars and always surrounds himself with good people.
And then I'd take Jimmie Johnson, because he seems to win a lot and it'd be nice to know what he has in his car.
SBN: What driver did you want to model yourself after when you were growing up?
JM: Well, it's not anyone you would know. There was a guy named Larry Phillips who raced Late Models locally and won five of the NASCAR Winston Racing Series national titles. I looked up to him because he won a lot, but also because he worked on his own cars – and I'm fascinated with that.
If I had my choice in racing, I think it'd be fun to design the car, to come up with all that stuff on your own. I think that says a lot about somebody.
That's part of the reason I do the whole go-kart thing, where I built my own go-kart. It's on a financial level I can afford and have fun with it, but kind of do the same thing (as Phillips).
SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made from the track to the airport?
JM: Well, I don't know that I have a memorable one. But I will say it's much different when you have a child in the car than when it was just me or just Christy and I.
Now that we have Carter with us, the trips take a little bit longer.
SBN: Who is someone famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
JM: Wow. I'm not really into meeting famous people. Honestly, when famous people come to the racetrack, I like to sit back and look at them and maybe snoop or listen in, but I don't really want to talk to them.
SBN: What are you looking for when you're observing them?
JM: Just maybe to see if what you thought of them is how they are. The thing is, I think NASCAR fans or just humans in general sometimes have a misconception of what someone really is.
A good example is Tony Stewart. I think everyone thinks he's a butthole and a loudmouth, but the reality of Tony Stewart is he probably has the biggest heart in the NASCAR garage, is very giving, very quiet – and not the person you necessarily see on TV. But in all the better ways.
Then you have the exact opposite of that, where you see a facade on TV, and the real person is different.
So I'm interested when I meet celebrities to see if my perception of them is the reality.
SBN: I've been using your name in this next question all year, so now I get to ask you. Would you rather have the type of season you had last year – big wins but miss the Chase – or...
SBN: You'd like that type of season over making the Chase and not winning any races?
JM: Absolutely. To just top-10 it to death and just make the Chase but not ever have the chance to win, that's not why everybody goes to work every day. You go to work every day so you can go to Victory Lane and taste champagne and spray each other and have that moment of being there. That's what you work for.
And it doesn't have to be two or three of the biggest races of the year. I don't want to say any tracks that are not big races, but you could win three of the least likely races people would want to win, and it's still a win.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?
JM: I don't know if I can answer that exactly. The reason I race is because I like the challenge every single week of showing up to a different type of racetrack. Sometimes you go to tracks you're always good at, but it doesn't matter, because there's always a challenge when you get there.
My whole life is like that. The reason I do not like video games is it takes about a month to master a video game, and then I'm very bored with that. In racing, unless you're Jimmie Johnson, you should never get bored with winning. There's always this challenge that comes along with racing.
Sometimes it's not just about being fastest on the track; it's about getting in your pit stall correctly or one of those variables. My drive and desire to get up every day is to be the best on that particular day.
SBN: How much does your personality differ from when you're sitting here talking to when you're inside the car?
JM (turns to crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion, who is sitting nearby): Bono? Not a lot, is it?
JM: I don't (change), do I?
SBN: So how are you able to do that?
JM: I don't know. I don't know if it's a good thing (laughs).
Bono: I think it's called maturity to know that yelling or getting upset or taking your anger out on a another competitor doesn't do no good. (He's) been around the block once or twice.
SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from another sport, who would you want to be?
JM: David Beckham, because my wife is in love with him. When you asked about a celebrity I'd want to meet, I almost said David or Victoria Beckham – and not for a personal reason, but because that's who my wife would like to meet. My wife is infatuated with fashion and Victoria Beckham is obviously a staple in that industry.
David Beckham would be me. I like soccer, but it would have nothing to do with that. It would just be because I think my wife would really enjoy it (starts laughing).
SBN: That's awesome.
JM: (Still laughing)
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted but come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do that? Or would you want to keep racing?
JM: I'd want to keep racing. But if you had to take a year off and it wasn't a choice, the one thing I wish I did more of and was better at is giving back. I don't feel like I do enough of that, and I hope one day when I quit racing, I'm in a financial situation where I can go do that and genuinely enjoy it.
I don't know that I would want to travel to other countries, because I'm a little bit of a germ freak and all the travel and all that would wig me out just a bit.
I told my wife this the other night: I was running this week and watching MTV or VH1, and there was some new Justin Bieber lookalike. This little 14-year-old girl tweeted and asked him, "If you could have any super power, what would it be?" And he said, "I wish I could fly."
As I was running, I was thinking about what super power I'd want to have – because I've been asked that before. And I thought, "If I could have any super power, it would be to be the most caring or giving human alive." Because to me, that's a super power you could really use.
You can't make yourself be that way. I can't. But I wish I could.
SBN: Someday, when you eventually quit racing, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
JM: I don't know. I guess I just want it to say whatever the truth is. If it says I'm a butthole and untalented, then that's what it is. And if it's the exact opposite of that, then that's what it is. I just want it to be honest.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship. Would you rather have it wrapped up after Phoenix or clinch it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?
JM: Well, at Phoenix I would rather have it wrapped up. But on the last lap at Homestead, it would be fun – I think that's what everyone would want.
I look back at Lewis Hamilton's F1 championship at Brazil. As Felipe Massa crosses the start/finish line and wins the race and he's won the championship, Lewis Hamilton is running eighth in the rain and passes somebody for sixth, and it was a freak thing that he got by him, and he ended up winning the championship. That'd be frickin' awesome.