AVONDALE — Juan Pablo Montoya has had fast cars and believes that the No. 42 is “a top-five team, easily.” He has led five of the seven races this season, including Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.
With plenty of bad luck, though, Montoya finished 26th or worse in four of the first six races. Maybe things are getting better.
Montoya led four times for 104 laps at Phoenix and settled for a fifth-place finish. That pushed him up four spots to 21st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points.
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After making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last year, Montoya this season has already had an engine failure, a tire failure, made contact with teammate Jamie McMurray in one race and gotten caught up in a multicar accident in another.
“We’ve run in the top five every week. We’re there,” Montoya said. “But we had blown tires last (race). The week before something else happened; they wrecked in front of us. … There is always something. Blown motors. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong so far.”
While Montoya is well below the top 12 in points, there are 19 races still left until the Chase. He said the bright side is that the problems aren’t because the team is slow.
“I don’t even know where we are in points, to be honest. I don’t even look,” Montoya said. “You take it race by race, score as many points as you can and see what happens. It’s completely out of our control. We come here and they wreck and we have nowhere to go. We haven’t really made a mistake ourselves to say this one is on us yet. I don’t feel we have.”
The Biff dips
Greg Biffle finished outside the top 10 for the first time this season, missing a chance to match Jimmie Johnson.
The last driver to start a season with seven consecutive top-10 finishes was Johnson in 2005, the year before he began his unprecedented run of four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.
Biffle had made it to six in a row and was within 14 points of Johnson in the standings before finishing 22nd Saturday night at Phoenix. That extended Biffle’s winless streak to 51 races since winning at Dover in September 2008.
Biffle dropped to third in points, behind Johnson and Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth.
Morgan Shepherd set the Cup record of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes to start a season 20 years ago.
Carl Edwards made his 200th career NASCAR Sprint Cup start Saturday night. That is only half as many as Elliott Sadler, who made his 400th.
Sadler, now driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, made his Cup debut driving for car owner Gary Bechtel at Charlotte on May 24, 1998.
Edwards has run all of his races for Jack Roush since making his debut at Michigan on Aug. 22, 2004.
No victory for his birthday
Kasey Kahne didn’t get the birthday gift he wanted — a victory at Phoenix International Raceway.
Only 15 laps into the race Saturday, which was Kahne’s 30th birthday, his No. 9 Budweiser Ford was heavily damaged after contact with the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge driven by Kurt Busch, who appeared to get loose in Turn 2. Kahne drove his car into the garage for repairs.
“From where I was, I thought I gave him lots of room and I’m pretty sure he just got loose and came up,” Kahne said. “He hit me as he was spinning sideways. It is disappointing, that’s for sure.”
Kahne finished 39th, 101 laps off the lead.
For Tony Stewart, it took a special cause to approve a green paint scheme for his No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet.
The special scheme this weekend coincides with the upcoming 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 and recognizes a partnership between Office Depot and a program created by NextEra Energy Resources, the largest producer of wind and solar power in North America.
“I’m never a fan of green race cars, ever,” Stewart said. “I think this is the only time that I’ve ever approved a green paint scheme in my entire racing career. But this cause was definitely worth that.”
Stewart has 400 acres of land in Indiana where there is a lot of wildlife.
“What we do as a society and how we take care of this Earth is dictating how we protect our wildlife too,” Stewart said. “And that’s a really big deal to me.”
The Nov. 14 race at Phoenix, which is the second-to-last race of the season, will be known as the Kobalt Tools 500. The announcement was made before Saturday’s race. Lowes and Kobalt Tools are sponsors for the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the last three fall races at the mile track. … Undefeated professional boxer Laila Ali gave the command for drivers to start their engines. It was her first NASCAR race. “I’ve never been to an event like this,” she said. Ali appeared before the race with Carl Edwards, the driver of the No. 99 Subway Ford. Ali told Edwards, “I want to make sure you don’t get in any trouble. I’m here to have your back.” … More than 77,000 entries were submitted for Toyota Racing’s contest to allow fans to design the paint scheme for a car during the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race next month. There are 10 finalists and voting is online through Thursday at www.sponsafier.com, where all entries can be viewed.