2011 Ride: No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Boats, McDonald’s, WIDIA, National Wild Turkey Federation
2011 Owners: Teresa Earnhardt, Chip Ganassi
2011 Crew Chief: Kevin Manion
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 4 top 10s, 1 pole, 5 DNFs, 27th in points
High Point: Had to be the fourth in the Brickyard, when he led five laps and looked competitive. There was also a fifth at Bristol, one month later but other than that there wasn’t much to cheer about over in the No. 1 camp this year.
Low Point: Probably a 38th at Chicago, with an engine problem after qualifying 14th but there were plenty of awful days to choose from. Among his finishes in the 30s: 37th at the first Charlotte race, engine; 33rd at the first Pocono race, but running at the finish 11 laps down; 36th at Kentucky, another engine problem; 31st in the first race at New Hampshire, although only a lap down; 35th in the second race at Martinsville because of a crash, and 36th at Texas, running at the finish 39 laps down.
In all, McMurray finished on the lead lap in just 17 of 36 starts and led only 106 laps overall.
Summary: Expectations were understandably high after the three-win season following McMurray’s move to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for the 2010 campaign. However, the second year in the organization was definitely not up to those lofty standards.
After something of a lackluster start (compared to 2010, of course), things appeared to be looking up the end of March when McMurray won the pole for the first event at Martinsville and finished seventh, still on the lead lap. His next top 10, however, didn’t come until Darlington in May, and there were only two more – the fourth at Indianapolis and a fifth in the second race at Bristol.
There was no one on the Sprint Cup Series schedule who had a more disappointing season, particularly with the expectations going in. The driver wasn’t alone at EGR, either; teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also had something of a letdown 2011, going winless and finishing well outside the Chase.
McMurray was signed to a multi-year contract in January, probably on the strength of the 2010 season. But he can’t feel good about this program long-term after finishing no better than 14th during the Chase. A low point came at Martinsville, his tangle with Brian Vickers causing McMurray to total the No. 1 car in attempted retaliation. The battery even fell out on the track after he simply missed swiping the No. 83. When it rains, it pours.
2012 Outlook: You’d think an overhaul of the team would be expected. There was, with the release of longtime mechanics Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover. Those longtime crew chiefs turned competition gurus joined lead engineer Ed Nathman in late November on the sidelines for good. Hmiel was EGR’s Director of Competition, moving up after a long and successful crew chief career while Glover, a former crew chief of Sterling Marlin, among others was team manager. Nathman will be replaced by John Probst as the organization hopes to revamp their chassis program.
Inside the No. 1 team itself, though, owner Chip Ganassi is trusting this group that their slump was a one-year anomaly. Crew chief Kevin Manion returns, surviving a wild Silly Season carousel for head wrenches while most of his underlings remain intact. The engine shop will undergo some tweaking, but for the most part this team looks to simply start fresh from 2012 and hope the last 12 months was nothing to worry about over the long-term.
It appears that McDonald’s and Bass Pro Shops will return as sponsors; paint schemes for 2012 were released in late October.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: C
2008 Grade: C
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: A
2011 Grade: D
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