Concord, N.C. Jamie McMurray was so nervous about racing a Winston Cup car Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway that he had trouble sleeping for a few nights.
"I would find myself getting up at 4 a.m. I was worried. I told my girlfriend, 'I don't want to go to Charlotte, I'm terrible there,' " McMurray said Sunday after stunning everyone, including himself, by winning the UAW-GM 500 in only his second Cup race in NASCAR's top series.
It was the second shock for the 26-year-old driver in the last two weeks. The first came when team owner Chip Ganassi told him he would replace injured Sterling Marlin for the last seven races.
McMurray was scheduled to move up from the Busch Series next year, but was called up by Ganassi and team co-owner Felix Sabates.
That was after Marlin who led the points much of the season and was still in the tight championship battle was sidelined two weeks ago by a fractured vertebra from a crash in Kansas City.
McMurray was winless in a season and a half of racing NASCAR trucks and nearly two full seasons in the Busch Series. His best finish came last month in Richmond, when he finished second.
In his debut a week before his big win, McMurray drove to a 26th-place finish in Talladega. Crew chief Lee McCall said it would likely have been a top 10 "if I hadn't run him out of fuel."
McMurray wasn't thinking about that Sunday.
"They took a chance on me," McMurray said. "I hadn't won in trucks or Busch. They put me in first-class equipment and I made the most of it tonight."
McMurray gave up the lead when he made his final pit stop on lap 285. He eventually went back on top after all the other leaders made their green-flag stops.
There were no mistakes by the crew or the driver this time. McMurray was strong from start to finish.
After taking the lead for the final time on lap 304 of the 334-lap event, McMurray appeared on the way to an easy win. A slight bobble four laps from the end allowed 2000 series champion Bobby Labonte to move his Pontiac nearly up to the rear bumper of McMurray's No. 40 Dodge Intrepid.
The inexperienced McMurray was up to the job, though, holding off Labonte and actually pulling away on the final lap to win by 0.35 seconds about five car-lengths.
"I don't believe it," McMurray said. "This was a really hard situation with Sterling being hurt, but what an opportunity."
Series leader Tony Stewart, Labonte's teammate, finished third and padded his points lead in the race that ended under the lights because of a three-hour rain delay.
l Schumacher wins again: Michael Schumacher had a perfect ending to a near-perfect season.
Schumacher, who finished among the top three in every race this season, won his third consecutive Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday in Suzuka, Japan, his 11th win this season.
l Starr wins Truck race: David Starr broke a 65-race winless streak Sunday, outdueling NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader Mike Bliss in the Las Vegas 350.
Starr, who started his Chevrolet from the pole, took the lead on the 142nd of 146 laps when Ted Musgrave's Dodge cut a right front tire and headed for pit road.
Dennis Setzer finished third.