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"I didn't know where I was, you know, 'til I really kind of got done almost wrecking down the back straightaway," Earnhardt said of his charge. "Then I looked up -- there's just one car in front of me, 'Jamie's gonna win this damn race!'
"I was happy for him. He deserves it. They've been through a lot. It's a great team."
The end left McMurray sobbing with joy in Victory Lane during the celebration with his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team. Between photographs, he rested his head on the trophy he cradled in his arms.
It was McMurray's first race back with Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates, who gave him his Sprint Cup Series shot in 2002. But McMurray bolted for a high-profile job with Roush Fenway Racing, where he spent four frustrating seasons before losing that ride at the end of last season when NASCAR forced Roush to drop a team to meet its four-car limit.
"I'm not quitting again," he told Ganassi hours after the 500 victory. "Just so you guys know, I'm staying."
McMurray had to fight to get a seat back with Ganassi, and it included convincing sponsor Bass Pro Shops' owner Johnny Morris to take a chance on him. He helped his cause with an October win at Talladega while driving for Roush, and the rehiring was announced a few weeks later.
The risk was well rewarded Sunday with the biggest victory of McMurray's career.
"It's unreal," McMurray said. "You know, to be where I was last year and for Johnny Morris and Chip and Felix. What a way to pay them back. It's just very emotional."
Biffle, a close friend of McMurray's, was disappointed in finishing third because he was the leader when the caution came out after the first green-white-checkered attempt. But he was able to give McMurray the push that got his buddy into Victory Lane.
"I just made my move too soon, a mistake on my part probably," Biffle said. "This is a big, big win for anybody's career. You got to be happy for anybody that ever wins this race. I was especially happy, the guys I was up there beating and banging with, you know, I would rather see Jamie win than those guys."
Clint Bowyer finished fourth and was followed by David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. -- teammates for Michael Waltrip, who finished 18th in what's expected to be his final Daytona 500.
Kevin Harvick was seventh and was followed by Matt Kenseth, last year's race winner, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya, McMurray's teammate.
After the race, DIS president Robin Braig apologized for the hole and the delays that caused some fans to head to the exits long before the finish.
"We're the World Center of Racing. This is the Daytona 500. This is not supposed to happen, and I take full responsibility," Braig said. "We can come back from this. We know how to fix it. This is hallowed ground. We understand that. We accept the responsibility."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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