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Montoya not laying down despite iffy future

August 25, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

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Out at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2014, Montoya notches another top-five

Related: Results | Updated standings | Video highlights | Complete race coverage

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Juan Pablo Montoya’s status for 2014 may be up in the air, but the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver isn’t slipping away quietly into the night.

Montoya, 37, scored his third top-10 finish in his past five starts Saturday night with a third-place result in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

That he fought his way back from a pit-road speeding penalty well past the halfway point of the race made the feat even more impressive.

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Second when the leaders pitted during the seventh caution of the race, Montoya was fourth off pit road. But then came the call from the tower, informing the team of the infraction.

No argument ensued, no complaints were lodged.

“No, no we were pushing it, playing the (timing) lines,” Montoya, 21st in points, admitted afterward.

Although he restarted the race in 26th, Montoya clearly had one of the fastest, best-handling cars. As attrition mounted and the laps clicked off, he steadily made his way back into the top five. Long green-flag runs -- there were a few in spite of the 11 cautions that slowed the pace of the race -- proved to be timely.

They were also destructive.

“That was our strength,” he said of the occasional caution-free runs. “The problem with that, starting at the back you use so much more of the brakes trying to pass people and it just killed the tires and the brakes there at the end.

“But we did good.”

With eventual race winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Kasey Kahne waging a war for the lead in the closing laps, Montoya did his best to keep the two in sight.

“I was hoping they were going to wreck on the white flag (lap), to be honest,” he said.

They didn’t.

The third-place finish was Montoya’s best since a runner-up result earlier this year at Dover, and it was his fourth top-five of the season.

“We had a really good car all night,” he said. “We were a little tight at the start of the night and we made some good changes. The car had good speed.”

He said he thought the speeding penalty might have actually helped the team. By returning to pit road for fuel, it kept him from running out at the end.

“Our fuel mileage wasn't as good as the 20 (of Kenseth),” he said. “It made it more interesting.”

Twice a winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since his full-time debut in 2007, Montoya doesn’t know what the future holds -- only that he won’t be returning in 2014 to drive the No. 42 EGR entry. For now, he’s simply focused on finishing out the year as strong as he can.

“I'm still running until the end of the year with (sponsor) Target, and I want to make sure I can do the best for them,” he said.

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