Montoya closing in on first win on oval
June 03, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
DOVER, Del. -- Juan Pablo Montoya sighed then smiled as he leaned against his mostly pristine No. 42 Energizer Chevrolet on pit road after an inspired and impassioned afternoon.
The open-wheel champ came three laps shy of winning his first NASCAR oval race in Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Raceway -- leading 19 laps and holding off the field before getting passed by three-time NASCAR champ Tony Stewart with three laps remaining.
It was the best result for Montoya in three-plus seasons -- dating back to his last Sprint Cup Series win at the Watkins Glen, N.Y., road course in 2010. It was the fourth time he’s finished second on an oval.
But instead of being frustrated at the near-miss, the Colombian driver was much more encouraged by the progress.
"One side is happy because we’ve been running so good, the other side … well, we're so close," Montoya said. "But I had nothing at the end, our car was just a handful. I was trying to hold Tony, but I was really loose when I ran at the bottom and I saw him coming.
"He passed me and just drove away like I wasn’t even there."
For much of the race it looked like Montoya's Ganassi Racing Team would -- for the first time this season -- put two cars in the top-10.
Teammate Jamie McMurray was among the front-runners early before a radiator problem sent his Chevrolet to the garage.
The entire Ganassi operation was encouraged by Montoya's showing since the team had tested at Dover's one-mile concrete oval last month.
This is the fourth top-10 for Montoya in the past six races, and he is optimistic with tracks such as Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a pair of road courses coming up this summer, places he typically runs well.
"I’ve said this before, you have got to start running in the top-fives, top-10s to be able to get wins, to give yourself a shot," Montoya said.
"Today, we gave ourselves a good chance. Just the car was a little bit too much of a handful there at the end."
And it was an ending not without controversy. Montoya led the field to the green flag on a restart with 19 laps remaining but was passed by then-second place Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson was penalized for jumping the start and a few laps later Stewart got around Montoya.
After the race, Stewart was full of praise and respect for Montoya, knowing how badly Montoya wants to win on an oval.
"Both of us are hungry for a win,’’ Stewart said. “For someone like him, he’s an Indy 500 champion, a world champion, there's no doubt he knows how to win races.
"At this level, it's about the people you're with. He went through the lowest of low times last year and those guys have made huge huge steps in their program this year and are reaping the rewards from it -- both he and Jamie.
"It was good to see him in a position to win the race. He could have made it a lot worse on us but he ran us with respect. And that's not easy when you're hungry for a win."
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