Fuel miscalculation costly for Montoya
June 23, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
SONOMA, Calif. -- As the rest of the field took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, Juan Pablo Montoya stopped his car on track at the Sonoma Raceway finish line. He climbed out his window, lugging his helmet in one hand and walked back down pit road toward the garage in competitive agony but hardly disbelief.
After showing himself a contender all day, Montoya, one of the sport’s best road course racers, was frantically and skillfully trying to reel in winner Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps. Montoya had -- again -- put on a driving clinic and rebounded from an early race dust-up with Kyle Busch to take second place -- a full 3-seconds ahead of the rest of the field -- poised to at least score a runner-up finish -- what would have been his second in the last four races.
Instead, the fuel gauge in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet dropped on the white flag lap and he had to coast around the final lap before parking his car at the start line. He was scored 34th -- a 32-position difference in two minutes time.
It’s been that kind of year for Montoya.
“To be honest with you, with all the things that have happened, you almost expect something like that to happen,’’ Montoya said shaking his head and mustering a smile as he walked quickly through the Sonoma garage.
“It’s what we’ve been doing all year. It’s hard. We work together and are trying to do the best we can and this is why we are 20-something in points. We’re not 20-something in points because we’re not running fast. We’ve had a lot of mechanical problems and then days like this, we threw it away.’’
The finish drops Montoya to 23rd in the Sprint Cup Series points standings on a weekend where the former Indy 500 winner and Formula One standout had expected to make a run at a Chase for the Sprint Cup Wild Card berth. A victory this weekend -- on a course where he is always favored -- would have not only helped immensely toward getting him into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. It would have been a well-timed momentum shift for a team that has more often had something derail a seemingly promising finish. Mechanical problems, restarts, pit stop miscues and now this.
His crew chief Chris Heroy was as puzzled as Montoya.
“We don’t know what happened,’’ Heroy said. “We were on the same strategy as the 56 (Truex) so we will go back to the shop and figure it out.’’
Montoya has led 98 laps on the season, scored a pair of top-five finishes and nearly won at Dover, Del. earlier this month.
But he’s also had four finishes of 30th or worse. And Sonoma would not be where anyone expected one of those.
“I thought we had a winning car,’’ Montoya said. “At the end I was a little too hard on the car, but to be honest, a disappointing day was going to be second place and instead we took second and finished 30-something.
“They were telling me to go after 56 as hard as I could and I was doing that. I ran as hard as the car could. When they calculated the (fuel during the) race, a lot of it was in traffic and when you’re in traffic you’re not running as hard as you can and when you’re in clean air you use more fuel. We missed it by a lot.
And then just before he went into the team transporter Montoya said with a smile, “It would be cool to know (tomorrow) if something broke. But I’ve run out of gas before here. So, no.’’