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The Grass Ain't Always Greener

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If we had a dollar for every cry of "Jamie McMurray couldn't get it done with Roush-Fenway so he can't get it done with anyone," that was lined before the 2010 season began, its likely that Michael McDowell's race-low paycheck of $134,125 for finishing forty-one positions behind the Brickyard 400 champion would not look quite so sporty.

Indeed, McMurray has proven most of the NASCAR pundits - those who wrote him off as destined for eternal life as an also-ran - more than wrong by claiming the sport's two biggest individual races, finishing second or better in the four races that once made up NASCAR's "Grand Slam," and making his strongest run at a spot in the Chase for the Cup since 2005.

There's no coincidence that the 2005 season was also McMurray's last with Chip Ganassi Racing before the Roush-Fenway Racing #26 car experiment.

True, the native of the "Show me" state showed little in his four years as driver of one of Jack Roush's Ford Fusions, winning but twice and never coming close to making the ten, then twelve-man Chase. Even as teammates Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth won races and contended for titles, McMurray languished midpack, creating the impression of a driver who'd overachieved with Ganassi and couldn't get the job done on the big stage.

Not all onlookers, however, saw McMurray's departure from Roush and return to Ganassi as merely swapping one seat for another in order to wallow in mediocrity.

Drawing lessons from the story of Brian Vickers, who had left powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports after three seasons and one victory to join the fledgling Team Red Bull and was sitting in the Chase - albeit well out of title contention - as announcement of McMurray's move to the #1 car became all but imminent, it had been proven that the grass isn't always greener, especially when a powerhouse team is involved.

At Roush, McMurray was overshadowed from the jump by former Cup champion Kenseth, perennial contender Biffle, and emerging superstar Edwards. A small fish in a five-car ocean, its easy to see where McMurray could have fallen behind, appearing to have lost the talent that had nearly carried his #42 team into the Chase in 2004 and '05.

Back with Ganassi, however, McMurray was a decently-sized fish in a small two-car pond. Its the situation in which he seems to thrive. While teammate Juan Pablo Montoya is a world-renowned racer who competed at the top level of Formula One and was a perpetual thorn in the side of Michael Schumacher, he is just one man. There is plenty of room at the table for McMurray and plenty of food left on it, so to speak.

Thus, McMurray is in the midst of a life-changing season. In addition to becoming one of just three men - joining Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson - claim the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies in the same season, McMurray has consistently performed in or near the top-10 and signaled that he is back on the track towards superstardom that he seemingly jumped off of after joining Roush.

If anyone can draw hope from the Jamie McMurray story, it should be former teammate David Ragan, who's job with Roush-Fenway Racing was saved at McMurray's expense when Roush was forced to cut his five-car team down to four. A former Chase contender himself, Ragan has languished despite a high-profile ride - the #6 Ford that Mark Martin drove to 35 victories - and high-profile sponsor in UPS. A bit of a small fish himself, Ragan could possibly thrive in a situation similar to the McMurray/Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing pairing.

In the meantime, this is, as in February, McMurray's week in the sun.

Likable and a class-act, it is unlikely that he will rub his successes in the faces of his doubters. That isn't in his makeup. His career revitalization is a feel-good story that most fans - regardless of their favorite driver - can and seem to get behind.

To use the over-abused cliche, Jamie McMurray is living the dream.