Jamie McMurray's troubles on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit this season are nothing like what the people in his childhood home of Joplin, Mo., are going through after a horrific tornado ripped through that area earlier this year, leaving massive devastation and destroyed lives in its wicked wake.
Frankly, it is that perspective that has helped him through a subpar season thus far in NASCAR's top racing series. McMurray currently sits in a tie for 28th in the Chase for the Cup standings, 292 points back of the leader, Carl Edwards, heading into race No. 20 of the 2011 Sprint Cup Season, the Brickyard 400 at prized Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the truly premiere races on the Cup schedule.
The 35-year-old McMurray, who now makes his home in North Carolina, along with a number of other NASCAR drivers, is winless so far this season after taking three checkered flags a year ago, one of which was the Brickyard 400. McMurray also had victories last season in the Daytona 500 and in the second race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte to finish just out of the Chase for the Cup field in 14th place in the regular 26-race season. In fact, McMurray's failure to make the Chase lineup despite winning three major Sprint Cup races in 2010 was one of key justification for altering the Chase qualifying rules this season.
This year's qualification criteria for the 10-race Sprint Cup championship round allow for two wild card entries in addition to the 10 automatic qualifiers from the points standings after the first 26 races. The final two Chase for the Cup entries are selected from the driver who has the most race wins among those who finish in positions 11 through 20 in the regular-season points standings.
At this stage in the 2011 season, however, it appears highly unlikely that the new Chase qualifying rule put in this year as a direct result of McMurray's three wins and failure to race in the Chase a year ago will benefit the Joplin native this time around.
McMurray has only two top-ten finishes in his 19 Cup starts in 2011, with a seventh-place finish at Martinsville back in April the best he's been able to do all year.
"It's been really frustrating to have such a good season last year and struggle so much this year," McMurray said to reporters earlier this week in Indianapolis. "I think if you were just running poorly and maybe crashing, it would be one thing, but blown engines and flat tires are out of your control."
McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet Impala of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has had six or eight flat tires already this season, three engine failures (the most recent of which was a couple of weeks ago in the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky Speedway) and ran out of gas at New Hampshire, McMurray says. "We've kind of been the guy that something breaks on the car and the engine shop, or wherever the failure is, they say they've never seen that before. It's just really odd," McMurray said.
Asked about how he feels about returning to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway as defending champion, especially in view of the difficulties he has encountered on the racetrack this season, McMurray said: "Indy is a special race for all of the teams. Everyone wants to win at the Brickyard," he said. "This is one of the races that all drivers specially prepare for. There is just a lot of emphasis on this race."
McMurray visited Joplin to talk to the people from his hometown and see the devastation for himself when he was in Kansas City in early June for the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. He says he wants to return when he is back for the fall Cup race at Kansas.
"We have been in touch with some people there," McMurray said in an interview with The Kansas City Star. "We're kind of in the middle of working out exactly where the money (that McMurray is helping raise) needs to go and what we need to do to raise more money."
The Missouri native may not be a contender to make the Chase for the Cup this year, but he definitely has his priorities straight. This weekend, however, his focus is returning to the win column in the Sprint Cup Series and defending his Brickyard 400 title.