News & Media

Montoya settles for seventh after ill-fated two-tire calls

June 12, 2011, Joe Menzer,

LONG POND, Pa. -- For a long time during Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, it looked as if Juan Montoya might finally break through and win his first Sprint Cup race on a non-road course.

But that opportunity slipped away shortly after crew chief Brian Pattie made the decision to go with two tires instead of four during a pit stop on Lap 116 of the 200-lap event at the 2.5-mile track. Montoya came out of the pits with the lead, but it was a mirage. The cars immediately behind him all did the opposite and took on four tires during the stop, and they quickly ran him down once the race went green again.

""It was a bad decision. ... I don't know. It probably cost us two or three spots in the end."


"I thought he made really, really good calls all day. I had no problem at all with any of it."


In fact, it took them less than a full lap to do it. When the No. 42 Chevrolet came back around to the start/finish line the next time, it had dropped all the way from first to fourth.

"It was a bad decision," Pattie said. "I figured more people would take two just to get the track position from the back. I was trying to gap us with some others who I thought would take two and the guys who I thought were going to take four tires further back."

Montoya worked his way back up to second later, around Lap 140, but he seemed to be off cycle with the top three or four leaders on pit stops and tires the rest of the way. He did not lead another lap after having led 38 of the first 116, and eventually had to settle for a seventh-place finish after his transmission faltered with 17 laps to go.

Nonetheless, Montoya said he was fine with the finish that helped him gain two spots in the point standings.

"I thought our Target Chevy ran good all day long," Montoya said. "We were really good on the long run. We just need a little more pace in our race cars, you know?

"We took two tires and that kind of hurt us. But once we got going again, we were OK."

Montoya is 13th in the season standings now, only 22 points out of 10th, with 12 races remaining before the Chase commences for the final 10 events of the season. The top 10 in points qualify for the Chase, along with two wild-card entries who can get in based primarily on their number of race wins.

Montoya went so far as to say that the first two-tire stop and others -- he made a total of four two-tire stops on the day when most others were taking four each time -- helped him in the long run.

"It worked because if we had a [long] pit stop, we weren't going to come out even fourth," Montoya said. "We were going to come out seventh or eighth. So you look at it like that. It was the best way to make sure nothing bad happened and we kept that track position.

"I let Brian make the calls, and I thought he made really, really good calls all day. I had no problem at all with any of it."

Pattie was left scratching his head over what transpired after his initial call to go with only two fresh Goodyears. But both he and Montoya admitted they probably did not have quite enough car to actually win the race.

"I don't know. It probably cost us two or three spots in the end," Pattie said. "I don't know that we were as good as the 11 [of Denny Hamlin] and some others even on four tires. When we were even during the race on the same tires during green-flag runs, they were a little faster. During those green-flag stops in the race, you could short-pit and do strategy to try to gain some [track position] -- but I don't know.

"It's weird because if people saw us take two tires earlier in the race and they paid attention, they would have done the same thing. Obviously I was the only one watching the race. It bit me."

Pattie thought more cars lurking behind the No. 42 Chevy would have taken on two tires on some stops -- and later, when he brought Montoya to pit road with 28 laps to go, he thought others would follow more quickly to pack their cars with fuel. They didn't; at least not right away.

Pattie believed Montoya could make the final 28 laps on fuel, and he did, but he wanted some other teams to sweat it out. And they didn't bite on that, either.

"We would have finished maybe fourth," Pattie said. "We lost our transmission with 17 to go and kind of limped home. We were so short on gas. I was trying to bring all those guys down to pit road early so they would all be in danger of running out. It just didn't work out the way we hoped."

* Final Laps: Gordon passes Montoya en route to victory

Again, Montoya said he supported all of Pattie's decisions. He blamed some of his problems on changing track conditions, citing the fact that about Lap 90, the sun came out and made the track slicker and more difficult to negotiate, especially on older tires. From that point forward, the sun dipped in and out -- and there were times when it shined on part of the track and it remained overcast over the rest of it.

"Every time the sun came out, it seemed like we would slow down more than everybody else," Montoya said. "So [taking two tires over four] was a close call all day. You don't want to give up track position, especially if you think the guys behind you are going to take two. But then if they don't, it makes it tough."

In the end, Pattie was left shaking his head and feeling his driver's fifth top-10 finish of the season was bittersweet at best.

"We've stole finishes here, and finished seventh or eighth in '09 or whatever [it was in June of 2009 when he finished eighth]," Pattie said. "We felt good about finishing there then. But this one hurts because we felt we had a better car than where we finished."