By Logan Morris
The idea of “coming home” is something we all love and romanticize. We just polished off another year and one of the highlights of each holiday season is family coming back together. Sharing stories, catching up, and reminiscing about days gone by, all while making new memories.
In sports, time and time again, we see somebody known for being on one team sign with another when they are typically nearing the end of their career. There are countless examples. Who could forget when Brett Favre spent a season with the New York Jets? It just felt strange. He felt even more out of place as he spent his final two seasons in a Minnesota Vikings uniform. But he came home to Green Bay and had his number retired and everything felt right. Motorsports, specifically NASCAR, isn’t any different.
Jamie McMurray began his career in the Cup series with Chip Ganassi Racing. He scored one of the biggest upset wins in NASCAR history in 2002 when he filled in for an injured Sterling Marlin and won the UAW-GM Quality 500 at what was then called Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. He was the 2003 Rookie of The Year, beating out Greg Biffle. He would go on to join Jack Roush Racing in 2006. It was a year to forget for McMurray, where he would finish 25th in the final point standings with just three Top-5s and seven Top-10s.
2007 was better for McMurray. He narrowly won the Pepsi 400 that year for his second career win and finished 17th in the point standings. 2008 was pretty ho-hum in terms of success. He finished 16th in the point standings that year.
In 2009 he scored his 3rd career win, this time at the fall Talladega race. It would be his final win for Roush. He was released at the end of the season because of NASCAR’s four-car team rule and McMurray ended up being the odd man out. While that was the official reason, the pairing of Roush and McMurray never felt like the right fit in a lot of people's eyes. Perhaps there’s some hindsight bias in that statement, because the reality is that the deal didn’t have the success that was expected at the time. It would be fair to call it a disappointment.
Jamie McMurray went on to ask his former boss Chip Ganassi for an opportunity. Ganassi brought Jamie McMurray back into the fold in 2010, replacing Martin Truex Jr. in the #1 car for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. He started 2010 in the best way possible - winning the Daytona 500. He then went on to win the Brickyard 400 as well as the Bank Of America 500.
“Jamie Mac” was back where he belonged, and would remain there until his retirement from full-time competition in 2019. He ran Daytona that year for Ganassi/Spire Motorsports and finished 22nd. Spire and Ganassi would come together again in 2021 for the Daytona 500 in what is currently McMurray’s final Cup Series start. If Jamie McMurray never races in the Cup series again it’s only fitting that his final race was with Chip Ganassi in some form or another.
Jamie McMurray is far from the only homecoming story in NASCAR history. Let’s shift our focus to a homecoming that we’re in the midst of. Jimmie Johnson retired from NASCAR after the 2020 season. He is, without question, one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. He may in fact be the greatest. He retired with 7 championships, and 83 wins, including 5 back-to-back championship-winning seasons. He left a legacy that very few can even compare to.
When he announced that he would be joining Chip Ganassi Racing to compete part-time in IndyCar in 2021 we all wished him well, but most fans were a little perplexed about the decision. He called racing in IndyCar a childhood dream and we should applaud anyone who chases their dreams. However, the idea of Jimmie Johnson proving himself at this stage of his career in an entirely different series just didn’t feel right to many people.
The original deal that Johnson struck with Ganassi left open the possibility of a return to NASCAR in a few one-off races. But in 2021, Ganassi sold his NASCAR operations to Justin Marks, creating Trackhouse Racing.
Johnson struggled mightily in 2021. He often was at the back of the pack, and was frequently caught up in incidents. Jimmie Johnson competed full-time in the IndyCar Series in 2022. By all accounts Johnson was much-improved, finishing 6th at Texas, and scoring a Top-5 at Iowa. He made his Indianapolis 500 debut and was the Rookie of the Race.
2022 was better. It may have even been considered a success if his name wasn’t Jimmie Johnson. However, the lofty legacy and myth that comes along with being Jimmie Johnson made these “little victories” feel somewhat hollow. He announced that he would be stepping away from full-time racing in 2023.
In November of last year, it was announced he would return to NASCAR and become part-owner of Petty GMS Motorsports. With that, he would be running a limited schedule, beginning with the 2023 Daytona 500. It was a move that sent shockwaves. Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty were on the same team and Jimmie Johnson was coming home to NASCAR. Petty GMS Motorsports was rebranded as Legacy Motor Club and Johnson confirmed he would drive the #84. With that, his return was solidified. Not only is he back, but he also wants to have his fingerprints on the sport for years to come. We don’t know how Johnson will fare in his return on the track, but the idea of Jimmie Johnson being back home in NASCAR undoubtedly feels right.
Even NASCAR will have its own “homecoming” moment in 2023 when the sport returns to North Wilkesboro Speedway for this year’s All-Star Race. While there is justified uncertainty about the on-track product, the idea of NASCAR returning to North Wilkesboro for the first time since 1996 brings up a lot of nostalgic emotions and it’s one that many fans are looking forward to.
At this point, even I know a thing or two about “homecomings.” After spending 2022 with another publication, I am officially returning to Racing Refresh and I couldn’t be more excited to be back. I greatly enjoyed my time away and I’m thankful that I got to work with a group of people whom I consider friends and whom I love deeply.
However, as 2022 came to a close, it became apparent that Racing Refresh is home to me. This is where I belong. I want to thank AJ Appeal, Adam Carabine, and the rest of this wonderful team for welcoming me back with open arms. We have a lot of exciting plans for 2023 and I look forward to being a part of them. I genuinely can’t wait to be back on air and make my debut at the track. Who says you can’t go home? After all, there’s no place like it.