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A win for Montoya? Not so fast

July 27, 2009|Tania Ganguli

INDIANAPOLIS — Juan Pablo Montoya was too fast for anyone on the track to catch.

He zoomed, four and five seconds ahead of the second-place driver. He said he cruised. Others said he dominated. It felt, to Montoya, just like the last time he won at the Brickyard, nine years ago in the Indianapolis 500.

Then, on Lap 125, eight timing sensors clicked beneath pit road. They calculated Montoya's speed as he drove over them. The speed limit on pit road is 55 mph, and NASCAR allows drivers a pass as long as they stay below 60.

Between the second and third sensors, NASCAR said, Montoya drove 60.06 mph. Between the fourth and fifth, he was clocked at 60.11 mph. NASCAR issued a speeding penalty and Montoya's magical run ended.

"Thank you, NASCAR, for screwing my day," Montoya said over his radio.

The man who led 116 laps of the 160-lap race finished the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard 11th in his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson won the race -- for the second straight year and third time in the last four -- Mark Martin finished second and Tony Stewart finished third.

"If I or my teammates couldn't have won this race, I was absolutely pulling for Juan," Stewart said. "They sure had the car today."

It didn't take long for that to be clear. Though Martin started from the pole, Montoya took the lead on the fifth lap.

With a win Sunday, Montoya could have become the first driver to win an Indy 500 and a Brickyard 400. It would have been his first victory on an oval track in a Cup car, and it was the best race he'd ever run in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. Montoya had led only 57 laps in his career before Sunday.

A win at Indianapolis would have been EGR part-owner Chip Ganassi's first at the track in a stock car. It would have been the final declaration as a contender from a team that has steadily improved throughout the last three years, turning a former Formula One and IndyCar racer into a NASCAR driver.

"That would've been an amazing story; those guys were quick all day long," Johnson said. "Every practice session, qualifying. Not only is that team getting better, racing with Juan on the track, that guy is really a great talent. He's becoming a stock-car driver."

One year after the Brickyard 400 disintegrated into a tire-failing debacle where competition cautions were called every 10 to 12 laps so tires wouldn't burst at full speed, the race saw only three cautions.

Robby Gordon spun in Turn 4 on Lap 2.

Kyle Busch blew a tire and hit the wall on Lap 58.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s engine blew up, shortly after Montoya's fateful pit stop, and spilled oil on the track.

And as Earnhardt handled another unlucky break, Montoya fumed.

"I swear on my children and my wife," Montoya said. "I was not speeding."

"It's not over," crew chief Brian Pattie said.

But at a skinny track built for slender open-wheel cars, where passing is tremendously difficult, it was.

Instead, Johnson and Martin battled for the lead. Johnson passed Martin on Lap 137 and held his ground for the next 24 laps, blocking Martin as he tried to win back the lead.

Seven of the last 11 winners at Indy have gone on to win the Sprint Cup championship. Johnson has done that twice.

"The teams that are on top of their game end up successful here," Johnson said. "I think that's why guys that have won this race have won the championship, because that team that given year is on top of what's going on."

Montoya had calmed down by race's end. Disappointed, he still applauded his team's performance; it is still 10th in the points standings and could make its first Chase for the Cup this year.

"Top 10s," Montoya said. "We have to get top 10s every week and right every week because things like that can really screw up a championship."

That's where Montoya now turns his attention.

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tganguli@orlandosentinel.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

RESULTS

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Lap length: 2.5 miles (Start position in parentheses)

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