Finally, after a 113-race drought, Juan Pablo Montoya dominated a Sprint Cup event and celebrated in Victory Lane for his effort.
Montoya had exhibited strength at Watkins Glen with finishes of sixth and fourth. But on Sunday he led 74 of 90 laps and reached the checkered flag 4.735 seconds ahead of second-place Kurt Busch.
This win was a long time coming. Montoya led laps in the previous five races — including the most circuits at the Brickyard two weeks ago. But unlike weeks past, with Montoya 21st in points entering the weekend and well outside the Chase Zone, the pressure was off.
All Montoya had to worry about Sunday was winning the race.
“Last year we were so focused on making the Chase (for the Sprint Cup), it was all about numbers,” Montoya said. “It wasn’t about being fast or slow, it was about bringing the car home. This year we thought we were going to do the same thing. We had a blown motor Race Two, Race Three taken out with a teammate. I don’t think it was on purpose, but we tangled.
“All of a sudden, by Race Five we had three DNFs. When you have three out of five races, the DNF’s keep happening. You have to be realistic about what’s happening. You have to start being more aggressive. A lot of mistakes came from my part and the team. I think this will really bring the team together and bring great things for the future.”
Sunday’s win could be looked at as an act of contrition for Montoya, who apologized to the team on the victory lap for his actions last week when he flubbed a pit stop at Pocono, then ripped an expletive-lace retort at crew chief Brian Pattie. Montoya referred to the incident as “a misunderstanding.”
“I think I went too far with it,” Montoya said. “That was it. I apologized for it. Good way of paying it back, I guess.”
Montoya paid back Pattie with his first career win as a Cup crew chief. For Pattie, the win is well deserved. Often, Pattie is the voice of reason. When Montoya loses his cool, Pattie reels him back in and assuages the team.
Despite last week’s heated exchange, Pattie insists his relationship with Montoya is not strained.
“When you’re passionate about winning races at this level, the closer we got, the worse it got for frustration level,” Pattie said. “We’ve led a lot of laps, led a lot of races this year. So we’re there week in and week out. That’s what we try to do from 2008 on: build our organization and a team that can consistently run at this level.”
Certainly this year has been humbling for Montoya. He watched new teammate Jamie McMurray win NASCAR’s top two events, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, even though he was a contender in both races. McMurray’s team adopted a different approach to racing this season — just attack for the wins — and it has paid off. McMurray is 15th in points and continues to improve each week.
With Montoya’s focus shifting to winning and not points racing this weekend, he has vaulted to 19th in the standings after his second career win.
“As competitive as I am, he’s as competitive with the race car,” Montoya says of Pattie. “I think we both come here every weekend with one goal: win. When the wins slip away, either my fault, his fault, I think the fault doesn’t really matter. When you go home empty handed, it’s frustrating.
“We have to learn how to make better judgment, myself make better calls when I’m driving, help them make better calls. I think we’re really working together and understanding what needs to be done to win those races.”
After Jimmie Johnson punted Busch at Pocono Raceway last weekend, the Blue Deuce came back in dramatic fashion to finish second at the Glen.
It was a career-best finish for Busch, who passed Marcos Ambrose for position with one lap to go. Busch gained three spots in the standings, moving into fourth place.
“The tough part is a 33rd last week, a second today, you divide that by two, that’s 17-1/2,” Busch said. “That doesn’t get it done when you’re in the Chase. It does ease the pain as far as where we are in points.”
While Busch claims he doesn’t “want to wish bad upon anybody," it was notable that his brother Kyle had a hand in Johnson’s misfortune on Lap 71. Johnson salvaged a 28th-place finish but dropped to fifth in the point standings, one position behind Busch.
However, when the points are reset for the Chase, Johnson will leapfrog over the No. 2 Dodge due to his five wins. While Busch has two wins, he desperately wanted the extra 10 bonus points.
“To come up shy of those 10 points, I can’t be too upset because Montoya really had us beat,” Busch said. “Overall, just for us to finally put a nice exclamation point on a road course race without having anything go wrong, not running out of fuel, not having a flat tire, not getting run over by a Hendrick car, feels pretty good.”
Montoya became the 10th driver to win at both Watkins Glen and Sonoma. He joins Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Robby Gordon, Kyle Busch, Ricky Rudd, Ernie Irvan, Geoff Bodine and Rusty Wallace. He’s the only foreign-born driver to win two races.
Clint Bowyer seemed destined to pick up ground on Mark Martin in the point standings. He climbed from 34th into the top 15 before a trailing arm mount broke off the No. 33’s chassis. The team welded the piece back on and Bowyer returned to competition three laps down in 36th place. With two beneficiaries, he finished 32nd, one lap down, and traded positions with Martin in the standings. Martin finished 19th and holds the last spot in the Chase Zone, 10 points ahead of Bowyer.
AJ Allmendinger’s fourth-place finish was the best among the Ford camp. His second-best career finish comes less than a week after signing a contract extension with Richard Petty Motorsports.
Greg Biffle, after Boris Said clipped him while he was running eighth:
“It sucks when you have to drive with people with their heads in the wrong place. He did the same thing every restart. The guy is hanging on to the top 10 barely and races this race once a year or whatever. He banzai’s the corner three-wide in Turn 1 because that is the only place he could make a pass on the restart. Anyone can do that.”