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Aftermath, Indianapolis: Jamie McMurray's Success May Change The Way We View NASCAR Drivers

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Jamie McMurray was studying for some upcoming races by watching YouTube, and he came across an old video of his buddy Elliott Sadler leading lap after lap at Pocono.

Until this year, McMurray and Sadler's careers have been very much alike: Both began with promise, hit a long stretch of mediocrity and were eventually written off as underachieving.

But after McMurray's victory in the prestigious Brickyard 400 on Sunday – a race typically won by champions – few will consider him to be average.

McMurray, it turns out, is a good driver. Anyone who can win both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis in the same season is a high-level, big-time performer.

Sadler, meanwhile, continues to be looked upon as a washed-up driver who never fulfilled his potential. But McMurray believes his own resurgence proves that success for Cup drivers is all about finding the right situation.

"I think it's a lesson for all the media that instead of writing the story that, 'This guy should be fired,' the story should be, 'This guy needs to find a new situation,'" McMurray said.

Is he right? It's a compelling argument, though one that makes following the sport a little less sexy: If most of the drivers are good, then it's far more about the car than we may have previously thought.

Both sports fans and sports reporters, by nature, want to rank athletes. They want to know which individuals are the best and which ones stink. They want to compile lists that declare some as the "best ever" and others as the "most overrated."

In the NFL or the NBA or Major League Baseball, it's easier to believe that numbers never lie, and that the statistics printed in black and white do not deceive us.

Yet in NASCAR, it's more apparent than ever that those figures can't be trusted. The driver must have some talent, of course, but it must be accompanied by a fast car and the correct amount of chemistry with the team.

There's been an endless debate about racing: When it comes to winning, how much has to do with the driver and how much has to do with the car?

McMurray, who has gone from a zero at Roush Fenway Racing to a hero at Earnhardt Ganassi, has shown that a third aspect – team chemistry – is just as important as either of those.

And that brings us back to Sadler.

Following McMurray's win, Sadler's spotter and business manager Brett Griffin tweeted that McMurray's victory "Proves my theory correct: Fast cars go fast!"

When I asked Griffin to expand on that thought, Griffin said he believes "most drivers at the Cup level are capable of winning every week."

"But they have to be comfortable and their cars have to be capable of winning, too," he said. "Jamie is a helluva driver. But he didn't become one over the winter. His talent level behind the wheel has always been capable of contending to win on a weekly basis. This year he's showing that with fast race cars."

Griffin's own driver, Sadler, made the inaugural Chase in 2004 and won two races that season but hasn't been in Victory Lane since. He hasn't even finished inside the top 20 in points in any of the last four years is mired in 28th place this season.

So does that mean Sadler is a bum who's just taking up a seat?

Or has he not been in the right situation that would allow him to maximize the talent he showed in 2004?

We can't offer a definitive answer. But looking at McMurray's example, it certainly seems unfair to declare that Sadler or anyone else on a winless streak "can't drive" or is "not talented."

As Griffin said, almost every driver at the Cup level is good; it's the combination of driver, equipment and team that may be questionable.

McMurray has proven that theory true this season.

"The fastest car doesn't always win," Griffin said. "But a fast one usually does. Fast cars go fast."