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From Track to Studio: Jamie McMurray’s Path to FOX NASCAR

Jamie McMurray ushers in his sixth season as an analyst for FOX NASCAR and NASCAR RACE HUB in 2024. (Photo: FOX Sports)

For the past five years, Jamie McMurray has provided insightful analysis about the happenings in NASCAR with grace and authenticity. Much like his 19-year NASCAR Cup Series career, the Joplin, Missouri, native works hard to succeed in his craft.

Long before the 47-year-old joined the FOX NASCAR team in 2019, McMurray pursued his dreams as a competitive stock car racer in 1999. After making five starts for MB Motorsports, he kicked off his rookie season with the Mike Mittler-owned team for a majority of 2000 before moving to TKO Motorsports with resounding success, including a third at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park and sixth place results at Michigan, Chicago and Dover.

A year later, McMurray joined the multi-car efforts of Brewco Motorsports, earning top 10 results at Nazareth, Kentucky and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, netting a respectable 16th place points finish. It was evident that the second generation racer had the makings to be a breakout stock car superstar.

In 2002, McMurray became a household name in NASCAR with consistent, strong results towards the top five and top 10. However, when McMurray was tabbed as the substitute driver for Sterling Marlin and the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing efforts in late 2002, the amiable racer capitalized on his opportunity.

McMurray scored an emotional, first NASCAR Cup Series victory in just his second career start, besting Bobby Labonte in the 2002 Charlotte fall race by just 0.35 seconds. It was the start of a remarkable career and journey for the respected racer.

Persevering through challenging times from 2003 to 2009, McMurray returned to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2010, driving their No. 1 Chevrolet entry. Prior to the start of Daytona Speedweeks, McMurray’s future was uncertain.

“Four or five months before that, I didn’t even know if I would be racing anymore,” McMurray said. “I’d been in the Cup Series at that point six years, and I’m like, ‘Maybe this is it.’  The economy had kind of flipped upside-down the few years prior to that.

“Sponsorships were harder than ever to find.  There weren’t as many teams.  And I was so fortunate that Ganassi, who I’d driven for before, had an opening with (Martin) Truex (Jr.) leaving. We worked really hard to make that all work out with Bass Pro Shops initially, and then bringing McDonald’s on board.”

Pairing up with crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion, McMurray showcased early promise, finishing sixth in his Duel to start 13th in the Daytona 500. Throughout the race, McMurray was patient with an average running position of 11th. Following a pair of late race cautions extending the race by eight laps, McMurray took the lead from Kevin Harvick with hardy bump drafts from Greg Biffle on Lap 207.

On the final lap, in the words of the late Buddy Baker, McMurray was driving with “one eye in the mirror, one eye on where he was going.” At the stripe, McMurray held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to capture the Daytona 500.

Typically mild mannered and calm, McMurray leapt into the arms of his crew in jubilation. It was a long ways from his humble beginnings in the Midwest to the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series as an aspiring racer dreaming to win in stock car’s premier venues.

“To go from not knowing if you’re going to be employed to then winning the biggest race in NASCAR, it was pretty unbelievable,” McMurray said. “And then that whole season… you know, we should have won the Coke 600.  I finished second in that race.  The Southern 500 that year, I finished second in.  And then to be able to win Indy.  Ran second at Talladega.  It was just… it was a pretty unbelievable season.”

While McMurray captured crown jewel wins in Daytona and Indianapolis and the Charlotte fall race, the best moment for McMurray in 2010 was away from the track.

“On top of all that, that’s the year that my wife Christy and I, we had our first child, so Carter was born.  It was a pretty awesome year,” McMurray said with a smile.

Following Carter’s birth on Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 25, 2010, McMurray and his wife, Christy, welcomed their daughter, Hazel on Feb. 11, 2013. Over the years, McMurray’s family has been alongside him, supporting his dreams and efforts in NASCAR.

Now, McMurray is guiding Carter in his quest up the motorsports ladder as seen in a short film, “NASCAR Kids: Carter McMurray: A Family Tradition.” Naturally, McMurray balances his role as a mentor and father, parlaying his experiences with his son’s to achieve maximum results.

“The journey with Carter has been really fun, and it’s one of the more frustrating things that I’ve ever done,” McMurray said.  “It’s also the most satisfying.  But when we first started karting, it was… I’ve used that as a life lesson, and showing him that if you want to be successful at anything ‑‑ it doesn’t matter if it’s just racing; it could be your schoolwork — if you want to do well, you have to work hard at it.  It doesn’t come easy.

“And that’s why… I mean, that’s part of the reason that I would get emotional when I would win, because I knew how hard I had worked to get there.  And then when that work pays off, it’s super satisfying.  But that journey with Carter has been fun.  We’re going to move up and do some Legends car races this year.  So he’s kind of transitioning, which is a little scary, because it’s your kid and you’re putting him in these faster cars.  But it’s also really fun to kind of watch him grow as a driver.  And you know, he has the same passion that I did when I was his age.  So I hope it works out for him.  It’s a hard journey.”

Following McMurray’s 19-year Cup career, he has enjoyed time with his family while staying connected to the sport. Naturally, some may think that Carter resembles his father.

Then again, McMurray attributes his son’s traits to his wife’s calmness and aura.

“Honestly, with our kids, when we go out, typically people say that Carter looks like my wife, and that my little girl, Hazel, looks more like me,” he said with a grin. “It’s so funny, because Carter has such a different… he’s so quiet, I feel like, compared to me, which is a lot more like Christy.”

Away from the track, McMurray is a venerable analyst for FOX NASCAR’s coverage, namely with NASCAR RACE HUBNASCAR Race Day and their live telecasts of NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series races. Trading his helmet and firesuit for his dapper suit and tie, the fashionable on-air personality transitioned from the track to the studio with an immediate impact.

The trio of Larry McReynolds, Shannon Spake and Jamie McMurray provide lively banter and perspectives into the world of NASCAR on FS1’s NASCAR RACE HUB. (Photo: FOX Sports)

“When I first started doing TV, I would say things in meetings that I didn’t necessarily think were interesting,” McMurray shared. “It was just in a conversation.  And it could be Shannon (Spake) or Adam (Alexander), they would say, ‘You’ve got to share that, because that’s something that people need to know.’

“And so a lot of times what I just think is common dialogue, that’s interesting to people.  And so I’ve tried really hard to share all those kind of memories or stories of what I was thinking, or what I think.”

Since 2019, McMurray gels with ease with Spake and Alexander, the longest tenured of the four cohosts, and his colleagues like Regan Smith, Bobby Labonte, Drew Blickensderfer or Larry McReynolds. Whether it is reviewing a pivotal moment in a race during an early week episode of NASCAR RACE HUB or immediate insights during a telecast, McMurray provides his thoughts with professionalism and a good measure of fun and enthusiasm.

He credits his wife for encouraging him to showcase his true personality, including his witty sense of humor.

“When I raced, and my wife used to tell me this, and I never knew that this happened, but she would talk about, on race weekends or race morning, how you would turn into a different person,” he said. “And I would lose any sense of humor that I had because I was just so focused on the racing.  And I think some guys do a better job of balancing that.  I did not.  I was just all in, and that’s kind of how my life is.  So I don’t know that people ever got to… I don’t think people, especially fans, ever knew that I had a sense of humor, or that I like to joke around.”

It is evident how McMurray has embraced his latest chapter in racing with FOX NASCAR. Late last year, McMurray paid homage to Josh Harris’ awkward handshake, pulling off the same moment with Smith with humorous results.

“TV’s allowed me to kind of open up to some of that, you know.  And whether it’s just doing RACE HUB, I’ve learned that… you know, I thought doing TV, that you went on it, it was going to be super structured, super serious.  And I’ve just learned so much that it’s about having fun and laughing, and being witty is so valuable, because when something happens live on TV, there’s nothing funnier than those bloopers or those moments that aren’t scripted, that just happen naturally.”

These are just some of the positive takeaways for McMurray as an analyst for FOX NASCAR. In fact, he has a unique perspective of being a successful racer turned analyst, experiences that have made him appreciate working in media even more.

“Yeah, it’s been a great journey,” McMurray said. “I’ve learned… I mean, if I could go back, and I would tell all drivers this, if you could do TV first and then go drive the car, you would understand things so much better.  A lot of what TV asks you to do doesn’t always make sense, you know, during the year or when you’re driving. But now, being on the TV side, knowing what they’re trying to get, or why they are doing the ask that they are, it makes complete sense.

“So it’s been fun to see the other side and just kind of learn TV.  It’s been… you know, I didn’t think of… I never really thought about, when I went to do TV, that it would be a second career.  But that’s what it’s turned into, and I really enjoy it.”

Far too often, fans, regardless of their expertise or knowledge of racing, may get lost with the technical nuances of the sport. In McMurray’s case, he focuses more on the human aspects of this demanding industry.

After all, McMurray understands all too well about the highs and lows of racing, a far greater intangible than knowing the mechanical side of competitive stock car racing.

Last year, Jamie McMurray joined Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer for the call of the NASCAR Cup Series race weekend at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo: FOX Sports)

“I think, a lot of times when you think about sharing experiences, I don’t try to get too technical with the car stuff, because I think that’s kind of easy to explain,” he said.  “You can show graphics of rules changes or cars.  But the emotions that a driver feels, I do know what those are.  And I think every driver handles that differently.  Anyone who watched any of my victory interviews, I typically cried because it meant so much to me, and it was emotional because of how hard I had worked to get there.

“And so I enjoy being able to share what I feel like a driver’s thinking, whether it’s in a win, or if it’s coming to the last restart and your heart beating out of your chest, knowing what’s on the line.  I enjoy being able to try to share with people and explain what the drivers are feeling in that exact moment.”

McMurray may not suit up for racing in the driver’s seat but he still focuses on his physical fitness each week. Namely, he laces his shoes up for long distance runs to keep in shape.

“I still run 10 miles a day, six days a week.  That’s just kind of my normal… like, I wake up every day and I go run 10 miles,” McMurray explained.  “I have some coffee, and I go.  And I do it mainly because I don’t want to get fat.  But I also love running.  I love the endorphins that that releases.  It just makes the rest of my day better.

“And I like being in shape.  I just think that that’s… you know, to be healthy in life, I think everyone should do what they can physically, whether it’s eating right, or running, or lifting weights.  Whatever motivates you and makes you feel good.  I think everyone should do that, just in general.  So for me, I don’t know that that’ll ever change.”

Much like those intense weeks leading up to weekends spent at the track, McMurray works hard to keep in prime shape. It goes beyond the positive energy but rather, with the long-term future, especially with his children.

“I think as you get older, that becomes more important to you, especially if you can find the time to do it,” McMurray said. “It seems like 40 is when most people make that transition to more exercise and eating better, because your body gets… well, it gets a little bit weird looking, right?  It’s not the same body that you had when you were 25, so you become a little more conscious of that.

“But clearly, like with our kids, we work really hard on… you let them make their own decisions, but you just try to make sure they know right from wrong, and let them make the decision, and you hope they choose the right one.”

For someone who pursued consistent speed and pace on the track, McMurray’s approach with running may come as a surprise although he keeps racing at an arm’s length during those 10-mile efforts.

“It’s different.  It’s different, for sure.  Yeah, for sure.  I think the key there is I don’t run fast,” he said. “I just run at what feels good, and I listen to podcasts.  It’s one of the ways that I prepare for a race or for a weekend is listening to podcasts.

“You listen to all these different driver interviews.  And it gives you time to kind of think and process, and kind of digest what questions you might ask somebody if you’re doing an interview with them that week.”

Beyond studying interviews with today’s stars in NASCAR, McMurray does his homework by paying attention to trends that possibly carry over from the latter part of the previous season. Before the unofficial start of this NASCAR Cup Series season, McMurray had positive thoughts about Ryan Blaney, the defending champion.

“Well, every year, whoever ends strong seems like they start the following season strong,” he said.  “I mean, Blaney’s going to be the favorite for the Daytona 500, no doubt.  Being able to win the championship.  The fact that he won the last superspeedway race we were at, at Talladega.  So I’m going to say he’s probably going to be the favorite at the beginning of the year.  As well as, I think, Brad (Keselowski) and (Chris) Buescher from RFK (Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing).  It’s been pretty impressive to see the growth of those teams.”

Ford Performance made incredible strides with Blaney’s first Cup championship and the exponential growth by RFK Racing last year. While Sunday night’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum is an exhibition race, it is the first test for some changes to the Ford Mustang Dark Horse and Toyota Camry enrtries.

“Everyone’s going to have a little different nose this year, and that doesn’t sound like that big of a change, but it is a big change to the car,” he explained. “And we’ll just have to wait till we get through the first two basically superspeedway type races, and then get to some intermediate tracks or some short tracks to see, with the rules changes, with the different tires, who’s been able to capitalize the most on that.

“But I think starting the year out, you just have to look at those guys that made the Championship 4.  So Blaney, (Kyle) Larson, (William) Byron… to me, they’ll start out the season the strongest.”

Despite making his final Cup start in the 2021 Daytona 500, McMurray would not describe today’s style of racing as difficult or harder than it was from 2002 to 2021.

“I don’t think “harder” is the right word,” McMurray said.  “The competition’s closer than ever.  When you sit back, and if you watch lap times during the race, it’s pretty incredible how the leader and 20th place are running almost the same lap times.  However, you tend to find the same guys working themselves to the front, whether it’s through the pit sequence, or restarts.  The same guys tend to find their way to the front.  So I don’t know that this car is harder.

“You know, it’s a little bit of a different animal.  I was shocked when they went to this low profile tire, you didn’t hear a lot of guys talk about that, and when I would go and drive sports cars that had a similar tire on, I found that the feel of the car and how much you could yaw it out was so much different than what we were used to with the old style tire, what the Trucks and Xfinity cars run now.  I didn’t hear a lot of guys talk about that.  I thought that was going to be a harder transition for the guys.”

Engineering has been the name of the game within NASCAR, particularly with the Cup Series. As McMurray pointed out, he experienced a plethora of aerodynamic package changes in the latter years of his career.

“I mean, all that stuff is different,” he said.  “And I went through a lot of those changes throughout my career, especially from like 2013 through 2018.  It seemed like we had a different rules package every year.  Mega downforce, then no downforce.  Tons of power, then no power.  But you know, the best teams, the best drivers, still seem to find their way to the front.”

Still, McMurray, who still feels the desire to compete and battle for wins, knows the life he has enjoyed for the past five years would be tough to give up now.

Jamie McMurray and wife, Christy, enjoy their quality time during the 2017 NASCAR Awards show in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: David Becker | Getty Images)

“It would be really hard to go back and race again and be gone, not just for the races, but for the appearances, for everything else you have to do, because… I mean, everything I do is at a studio now, so I’m home a lot,” McMurray said. ” I mean, I’m home every day, and I get to… I don’t normally take the kids to school; my wife does that.  But I get to pick them up from school and take them to the horse barn, for my little girl, or if I take my son to a workout class or to the kart track after school.

“It’s kind of being… I wouldn’t even say a normal dad, because I think a normal dad would have to work till five.  But it’s pretty great to be able to have the life that I have now.  But to go back and have to do all the racing and not be home, and… I mean, honestly, just even leaving for a weekend, it’s hard to be away from your kids when you’re used to being with them all the time.”

Today, McMurray has the best of both worlds. The days of strapping into a Cup car may be gone, but he mentors Carter’s racing efforts, he stays connected with the sport through FOX NASCAR and he can be the best family man to his wife and children.

“When I was driving all the time, and we had kids, I didn’t know any different.  That’s just what you did,” he said.  “And you make the most of the life you’re given, and the opportunities you have.  And if you can be home, it’s great, and if you can’t, then you just figure out how to make it work.  But it would be super hard to go back and do that again.”

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Jamie McMurray for taking time ahead of the 2024 season for this feature story! Also, special thanks to Megan Englehart of FOX Sports for her assistance and support with this feature! Be sure to follow Jamie on his social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram and X!

Congratulations to FOX NASCAR and FOX Sports on NASCAR RACE HUB’s 2,500th episode that aired on Monday, Jan. 29! Catch NASCAR RACE HUB weeknights at 6 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app, available to download on the App Store for iOS devices and Google Play store for Android devices, throughout the NASCAR season!

Lastly, be sure to check out my interview with Jamie McMurray on my official YouTube channel!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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