KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) – Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton rebounded from so-so seasons to become championship contenders this year – and that gives Jamie McMurray hope.

As much hope as a guy who starts 41st on today can muster, anyway.

McMurray believed his move to the high-profile Roush Racing team would allow him to take the next step in his racing career, from a highly regarded talent to a championship contender.

Instead, McMurray and the No. 26 team have struggled this season, making him an afterthought going into today’s race at Kansas Speedway.

“Whenever things aren’t going well and it seems like you struggle every single week, it makes it very hard,” said McMurray, a native of nearby Joplin, Mo. “I went to my motor home last night and I laid down as soon as qualifying’s over. I didn’t sleep – you just lay there. Because you don’t know what to do to make it better, or what to change on the car.”

Or what to change on the team.

McMurray says getting “all the right people in place” would be a major step toward fixing a team that has had extensive turnover since winning a championship two years ago and has managed only three top-five finishes this season.

“It’s all about everybody working well together, and we don’t have that right now,” McMurray said. “And you’re great friends with everybody on the team and love hanging out with them, but we just have to get everybody realigned to where everyone’s comfortable and everyone’s working well together.”

McMurray’s disappointing Cup season has been somewhat balanced by success in the Busch Series, where he has four top-fives in 18 starts with Rusty Wallace’s team. McMurray calls Busch racing his “saving grace,” but wonders why he can’t get similar results in Cup.

“You have a chance to win races and you run well every week with the same guys you’re racing with (in Cup),” McMurray said. “With the Busch car, it seems like I’m able to tell them this is what I want and this is what we need to do, and it works. Over here, we haven’t had that happen yet.”

McMurray was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing last season when he agreed to drive for Roush this season. He was supposed to replace Mark Martin in the No. 6 car, and expected to quickly establish chemistry with his new team.

“And it was going to be all the team that Mark had assembled, and Pat (Tryson, crew chief) had assembled,” he said.

But in a surprise move, Kurt Busch decided to leave Roush for Penske Racing, and Martin decided to race another year in the No. 6 car. So Roush put McMurray in Busch’s former car.

When McMurray got there, it wasn’t the same team Busch won the championship with in 2004.

“They’ve all been promoted within Roush Racing,” McMurray said. “The shock guy’s different, the car chief, the crew chief now, the driver, the tire guy. There’s only a couple of guys that are the same, so you essentially have a completely different team that’s a new team. Some of the guys haven’t even been at Roush before. So I came a year early, and it was not with the team that I anticipated, and we just haven’t had the success that we needed. So I think hopefully we can get things lined up.”

And after McMurray got off to a bad start this season, team owner Jack Roush made a crew chief change in April. McMurray’s crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, was sent to work with Roush’s Busch Series teams, and Bob Osborne, who had been working with Roush driver Carl Edwards, was reassigned to McMurray.

Roush hoped Osborne could oversee the construction of new cars that would help McMurray compete, but the driver says it hasn’t worked so far.

“Though they’ve been a little better, they still haven’t really been what we needed,” McMurray said. “So we’re going to have to look and see what else we’re going to have to change to be better for next year.”

McMurray said he doesn’t regret his move to Roush. But with his team underperforming and uncertainty surrounding the future of the No. 6 team for which he originally was supposed to drive, McMurray expects significant changes.

“There’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle that have to be ironed out before we get anything that’s final,” he said. “And I don’t know what’s going to happen with the other teams. I’ve talked to Jack and I’ve read some of the stuff in the paper. But I anticipate that there’ll be some changes made.”

AP-ES-09-30-06 1719EDT

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