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Close call at Indy won't slow down Montoya
Montoya's moment in the sun, and his chance at history, went out the window when he was nabbed for speeding with 35 laps remaining in the race. The gaffe was heartbreaking for Montoya and turned an intriguing story into a disappointing and anticlimactic conclusion to one of NASCAR's biggest races (honestly, how many fans wanted to see Jimmie Johnson win at Indy again?). But it should not overshadow a magnificent performance by one of the sport's up-and-coming stars. Montoya sent a message Sunday that he is indeed on the verge of becoming a force to be reckoned with. He was already showing remarkable consistency, racing his way into the top 12 in points and becoming a serious contender to make the Chase. (And despite Sunday's disappointing 11th-place finish, he is still 10th.)But Sunday's dominating run on one of NASCAR's toughest tracks and grandest stages showed that Montoya is not only for real but could be a serious contender when the Chase begins. Prior to Indy, he had nine top-10 finishes only five drivers have more on the season including seven in his last 10 races. He had already become relevant and legitimate; Sunday's run made him significant. If Montoya can dominate a big race like the one at the Brickyard, leading more than twice as many laps as he has in his three-year NASCAR career, then he is now a threat to win almost anywhere. He now must be considered a threat this week at Pocono (eighth in June), the following week at Watkins Glen (fourth last year), and the week after that at Michigan (sixth in June.) If Montoya doesn't win one of those races, he will almost certainly win some soon, possibly in the 10-race Chase. While perennial contenders continue to fade (Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton), struggle with inconsistency (Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth) and simply boggle the mind with their sudden lack of oomph (Carl Edwards), Montoya is on the rise and threatening to join NASCAR's elite. What we saw from him Sunday is what has been expected all along, it's just taken him longer than anticipated to make it happen. Part of that is due to the incredibly difficult transition from open-wheel cars to full-bodied stock cars, an adjustment made even more difficult by NASCAR's new car, which even its most seasoned drivers have struggled to grasp.
Jeff Owens is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.