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NASCAR notebook: McMurray pleased to reunite with Ganassi
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Jamie McMurray feels right at home at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

He should. He's been there before.

McMurray's ride for Roush Fenway Racing today will be his last after four years with the team. He signed this week with EGR, where he was reunited with Chip Ganassi, the owner who gave the driver his first Cup ride in 2002.

McMurray expressed no regret about signing with owner Jack Roush after the 2005 season. But he sometimes felt lost in the shuffle as part of the organization's five-car lineup, something he won't have to worry about next season at EGR.

"I remember telling him that day he was making the right decision, when he left us," Ganassi said. "Those were the days when it looked like he needed a big, four-car teams. I hope our team has shown this year maybe you don't need to have all that to do well."

McMurray was hired to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet, a spot left open when Martin Truex Jr. defected to Michael Waltrip Racing. The hiring has long been in the works, and gives one of the last remaining open seats for 2010 to McMurray.

McMurray drove 114 races for Ganassi, but left after the 2005 season to join Roush Fenway Racing. He is losing that ride because Roush must drop one team to meet NASCAR's four-car limit that begins next season.

"You just always think that it is going to be better if you do something different and it isn't always," McMurray said.

McMurray and Matt Kenseth are the only Roush Fenway drivers to win a race this year. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Ragan are looking for their first victories of 2009, and none of the five drivers qualified for the Chase for the championship.

"When things are going well, things are really good. You have a lot of data, a lot of drivers to learn from," McMurray said. "The down side to that is when things aren't going well, it's a big ship and it takes a long time to get it turned around."

McMurray has three career Cup wins, including his victory at Talladega earlier this month. He set a NASCAR record by winning in his second Cup race while driving for Ganassi in 2002.

He enjoyed his best success with Ganassi, finishing 13th (2003), 11th (2004) and 12th (2005) in his final three seasons with the team. McMurray would have qualified for the Chase for the championship in 2004 and 2005 under the current format. He never finished better than 16th with RFR — he's 22nd this year entering the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

His only teammate in 2010 will be Chase driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Their friendship hit an icy patch earlier this year when Montoya wrecked McMurray in Bristol. McMurray said he's moved on from the incident now that they're both driving under the EGR banner.

Kevin Manion will be McMurray's crew chief.

HAMLIN SURGERY: Denny Hamlin will have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Wednesday. He will need about two weeks of recovery.

"When I get out of the car, it really is stiff and the joints really hurt a bunch," Hamlin said. "It's something that needs to be done for the long run."

Hamlin has three wins, qualified for the Chase and is in eighth place this season.

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Juan Pablo Montoya's best season in NASCAR has made him a bigger hit with the Hispanic community.

"I think it's great to see the Latin community paying attention to what we're doing," he said.

NASCAR's only Colombian star has expanded the sport's popularity outside of the United States. He answers questions from the Hispanic media in Spanish, fans wave Colombian flags in the stands, and south Florida fans have made him the most popular driver this week.

It might be too much attention. Montoya, sixth in the points standings, has been crushed by ticket requests for the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"It's actually a nightmare. It is," he said. "It's so many people. Everybody wants tickets. Everybody wants this, everybody needs this. Everybody is your best friend."

Montoya had plenty of friends Thursday night when more than 700 people attended his fundraising gala in south Florida. He's proud of the increased awareness he's helped bring to NASCAR, but emphasized that's secondary compared to his racing.

"I'm not racing NASCAR to create Hispanic awareness about it, you know," he said. "I race NASCAR because I want to kick everybody's butt."

The former Formula One standout — he also has an Indianapolis 500 win and CART championship on his resume — has done more of that this year than his first two full seasons in Cup racing.

"I want to win races and everything, but the way we ran over the past few years against this year, it's been incredible," he said. "We got to be able to match the performance. I think that's the key thing for the team for the future."

F1 VISITOR: Sebastian Vettel spent time at his first NASCAR weekend listening to racing advice from Juan Pablo Montoya.
No, Vettel isn't plotting a jump from Formula One to NASCAR like the one that Montoya pulled off.
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