CONCORD, N.C. — In a hurry to fly back to Indianapolis, Chip Ganassi abruptly left the news conference after Jamie McMurray's upset victory in the Sprint All-Star race. Before he stepped down from the podium, Ganassi leaned in and planted a kiss on McMurray's cheek.
Ganassi, often gruff and sometimes just plain grumpy, also has a softer side that he can't hide. It comes out in bursts of emotion, or sentimental moments like Saturday night, when McMurray pulled off a bold upset to win the $1 million prize at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"He said to me in Victory Lane, 'We've won a lot of great races together, haven't we?' " Ganassi recalled. "I said, 'Yes, we have.' It was kind of special for him to think of that. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver."
There's no doubt McMurray went all out in the final 10-lap segment. He was second on the restart, on the outside of leader Carl Edwards, and he refused to back down as the two went door-to-door for an entire lap.
McMurray surged ahead after the white-knuckle battle to win in the event he'd never before finished higher than eighth.
It added yet another NASCAR "major" to a resume that exclusively includes big wins. McMurray has seven Sprint Cup points victories — all at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Indianapolis. Among them are the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, two of the series' biggest races.
Now he is one of only seven drivers to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard and the All-Star exhibition. McMurray's won all three with Ganassi and team co-owner Felix Sabates.
"After the race, one of the first things I thought was 'I'm so glad that Chip and Felix are here and I get to share this with them,' " McMurray said. "They were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me."
McMurray also heaped praise on first-year crew chief Keith Rodden, a longtime engineer for Kasey Kahne before he was practically hand-picked by McMurray to take control of the No. 1 Chevrolet. He'd heard of Rodden time and again over the years, and was sold on his capabilities after one 20-minute conversation in the basement of Rodden's house.
McMurray left the meeting and immediately called Ganassi general manager Max Jones, imploring him to lure Rodden from his supporting role with Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports.
"I'm like, 'That's the guy. You've got to figure out how to make it work. No matter what you have to pay him, what you have to do, get that guy because I like everything about him,' " McMurray said.