McMurray Climbs NASCAR Ladder To Daytona Victory Lane
Daytona 500 Winner Started Out on NASCAR's Local Tracks
Long before Jamie McMurray was celebrating in Victory Lane Sunday night as the winner of the Daytona 500, he was learning the stock-car ropes from a NASCAR legend on the short tracks of the Midwest.

McMurray, 33, of Joplin. Mo., established his NASCAR career in the early 1990s in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks in his home state. McMurray and his father/car owner Jim also had the benefit of friendship with five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo.

"Larry would have been thrilled to see Jamie win the Daytona 500," said Judy Phillips, wife of the racing legend who passed away in 2004. "Jim McMurray and Larry got to be friends. Larry really thought Jamie was a good racer who had talent. It took Jamie a while to learn the ropes of Late Model racing, and when he got competitive, Larry was really proud of him."

McMurray tried out a NASCAR Late Model at the age of 16 in 1992, but settled in to the economy-type Modified division in 1994 and began to sharpen his skills at the now shuttered I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., and Phillips’ home track, Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway.

The following season McMurray posted top-10 points finishes in the division at Lebanon and Bolivar (Mo.) Speedway. In 1996, McMurray moved up to the Late Model division, and finished sixth in track points at I-70.

"My experiences in the NASCAR weekly racing series almost certainly helped to prepare me for the success I have had in my NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career," McMurray said. "The hard work and dedication it took in that series taught me to respect the effort and work that goes into being competitive, not only as a race car driver but as a professional."
Jamie McMurray started out on the short tracks and has now gone on to winning the biggest stock car race of them all - the Daytona 500.  (NASCAR Photos)