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