CONCORD, N.C. (AP) -- Grown men cried the day they learned Sterling Marlin was lost for the year because of an injury, certain the spectacular season was ruined for the Chip Ganassi Racing team.
When the emotions wore off, they went back to work and did everything possible to salvage the year with rookie Jamie McMurray at the wheel of their No. 40 Dodge Intrepid.
The tears of disappointment turned to tears of joy Sunday when McMurray won the UAW-GM Quality 500 -- his second Winston Cup race as Marlin's injury replacement. Marlin was knocked out for the final seven races by a fractured vertebra.
"Certainly it was a big blow to our race team to hear the news about Sterling and we went for a day or two of trying to get through it," crew chief Lee McCall said. "But we still had goals and one was to get Jamie through it in the best equipment possible.
"So this shows a lot about this race team, how strong it is. A lot of people might have given up on this race team, but we didn't."
McMurray, a Busch series driver hired six weeks ago to drive a third Winston Cup car for Ganassi next season, won his first-ever NASCAR race and passed Kevin Harvick's mark for the fastest rookie to Victory Lane.
The 26-year-old driver showed why Ganassi hired him -- and trusted him on his top team when Marlin was hurt -- by holding off 2000 Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte on two restarts and pulling away from him over the final 30 laps.
He did it with encouragement over the radio from his entire team, which was desperate to validate a season in which Marlin led the points standings for 25 straight weeks before he was injured two weeks ago in a wreck at Kansas.
"They told me I was driving like a girl. I wasn't," McMurray said. "I think I am going to cry and it's not funny.
"They took a chance on me. I hadn't won in trucks or Busch. They put me in first-class equipment and I made the most of it."
Labonte finished second and Tony Stewart, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was third and padded his lead in the Winston Cup standings.
Stewart, battling for his first-ever title, leads rookie Jimmie Johnson by 97 points.
"I'm going to be upset if anyone says I was points racing tonight because I was racing to win," Stewart said. "They said over the radio to just keep the big picture in mind and I said 'I'm racing to win."'
But neither he or Labonte ever had enough to challenge McMurray once he got to the front.
McMurray gave up the lead when he pitted before the rest of the pack on lap 285, but raced back to the front as the other cars made their stops.
He took the lead for the final time on lap 304 of the 334-lap event and held off Labonte to win by about five car-lengths and gave the Ganassi team its second-straight victory in the fall race at Lowe's Motor Speedway and their third of the season.
Marlin won twice earlier this year in the same car McMurray drove to victory.
"I knew Jamie would be good," Marlin from his home in Columbia, Tenn. "That's the same car we won Darlington and Vegas with."
McMurray said Marlin was underplaying it.
"He's surprised, don't let him fool you," said McMurray, who spoke to Marlin on a cell phone in Victory Lane. "This was a really hard situation with Sterling being hurt, but what an opportunity."
Jeff Gordon, struggling to remain in the points chase, finished fourth, followed by Rusty Wallace, Johnson, Jeff Burton and rookie Ryan Newman. All but Burton are part of the closest points race in NASCAR history.
Mark Martin, who came into the race second, trailing Stewart by 72 points, struggled late in the race with an engine problem and finished a lap down in 16th. He fell to third, 122 points back, followed by Newman (165 behind), Wallace (192) and Gordon (211).
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