Montoya's Chase run hits big bump in Charlotte
Juan Pablo Montoya's magical run is done.
The Colombian driver likely saw his chances of winning NASCAR's Chase for the championship evaporate on a frustrating Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
A series of mishaps sent him to a 35th-place finish, dropping him from third to sixth in the standings.
"It happens," Montoya said. "It's one of those racing things and you've just got to move on."
Maybe, but his hopes of becoming the first foreign-born driver to win the Cup title likely ended during a restart early in the race when he nudged into the back of Clint Bowyer. Mark Martin then slammed into Montoya's right rear quarter panel, sending Montoya slipping through the field.
Montoya didn't blame Bowyer or Martin, but Jeff Gordon, who was ahead of them.
"Every time the 24 restarted, everybody packed in the back," Montoya said.
Montoya kept asking crew chief Brian Pattie if he could pit, but Pattie told him to wait until a caution came out. Montoya didn't have to wait long. He spun out at the entrance of pit road.
His Earnhardt Ganassi crew ended up bolting a piece of red sheet metal over the quarter panel to keep it in some semblance of shape, but that fell off shortly after a restart. Despite assurances from Pattie that things would be fine, Montoya had lost too much ground and finished four laps behind winner Jimmie Johnson.
"We had one of the fastest cars (but) there's not much we can do," Montoya said. "We worked as hard as we could, we did all we thought was possible and here you go. Today the best we could was 35th."
Montoya trails Johnson by 195 points heading into next week's race at Martinsville. And Montoya wasn't the only Chase contender whose title dreams fell by the wayside on a chilly night at the 1.5-mile oval.
Denny Hamlin spent the last week beating himself up after an ill-advised attempt to cut off Montoya on a restart at Auto Club Speedway ended up sending him sliding across the infield and into the pit road barrier. He finished 37th and dropped from sixth to ninth in the points.
Hamlin's problem Saturday night wasn't his driving. This time, it was his car.
He led 54 laps early and appeared to have one of the stronger cars on the track before a busted valve sent him to the garage early and ended his Chase hopes.
"We've just had a rough couple weeks, you know," said Hamlin, who finished 42nd. "The driver made a mistake last week and it cost us and this week, just a parts failure. It's the best I've ever ran at this race track. Had a shot to win it, felt like."
Carl Edwards spent all night in the back of the pack before his No. 99 Ford lost his transmission with less than 40 laps remaining to extend a decidedly miserable season in which he has gone winless and suffered a broken foot while playing Frisbee.
"That was a mercy killing there," Edwards said. "We all made mistakes tonight. You're going to have nights like this, that's life, that's racing."
No pep talk for Junior
A pre-race visit from Rick Hendrick did little to change Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s luck.
The series most popular driver finished 38th after an electrical problem sent him to the garage about midway through the race.
It wasn't exactly the shot in the arm Earnhardt was looking for and followed a lengthy meeting with reporters on Friday when Earnhardt did little to hide his frustration over a maddening season.
Hendrick removed Tony Eury Jr. as Earnhardt's crew chief in the spring, but the results with new chief Lance McGrew have been mixed at best. Hendrick said he's leaning toward keeping McGrew on Earnhardt's car for the rest of the season and perhaps in 2010.