In a Nutshell: It was Juan Pablo, Juan Pablo, Juan Pablo… all the time South of the Border. Montoya may have felt the pressure to live up to the hype this weekend, as his face graced posters all over Mexico City to promote the race… in the end, he certainly pulled through. Things didn’t start off well, though, as Montoya locked up the brakes in qualifying and cost himself just enough precious time to lose the pole position he was favored to capture. No matter… come Sunday, he asserted himself in the race and stationed his No. 42 Dodge up front early and often.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan for the team until a fuel malfunction on a lap 45 pit stop left Juan Pablo Montoya short on gas and facing another stop. Forced to pit again, the Colombian found himself 19th with the laps winding down, but a series of textbook perfect passes found him marching to the front. All signs pointed to an easy win as Montoya closed in on Scott Pruett to regain the lead… but then, he committed a cardinal sin.
With just eight laps to go, and with his teammate in front of him no less, Montoya showed that aggression that caused such a stir in his Formula 1 career; either that, or it was simply impatience. Whatever the case, the facts are that Montoya dove deep to the inside in an attempt to get the favored line, and instead found the right-rear quarterpanel of Pruett’s car, spinning his teammate out and very nearly wrecking himself in the process. Montoya was able to keep his car steady though, and fought off a furious charge from defending race winner Denny Hamlin in the closing laps to score his first Busch Series victory. Boris Said came home third, followed by Carl Edwards. Pruett recovered from his late-race spin to still take fifth place.
Who Should Have Won: Montoya. He probably should not have punted his teammate, but even Pruett admitted Montoya had the fresher tires and faster car, giving him the edge he needed to likely get by for the lead before the race was over. The Ganassi cars really seemed to have the field covered today, so Pruett was the biggest threat Montoya had to contend with.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend
1) Impatience, aggression, or just a racing deal?
Everyone knows the one thing you don’t do is wreck your teammate. With the way Montoya was marching by cars on older tires, eight laps was plenty of time to get past Pruett, so taking him out and almost wrecking himself was probably not necessary. One month ago, these guys were smiling, happy teammates who shared the winning car at the Rolex 24, but today it was a much different story. I’m betting it was a fun ride home on the Ganassi team jet.
2) Shouldn’t Montoya have someone who can verse him on the little intricacies of NASCAR?
By that, I mean I am sure I am not alone when I cringed when Montoya climbed out of his car and stood on the roof. I could almost hear the NASCAR officials screaming.
3) What is it with Hamlin and Mexico?
Hamlin has been there precisely twice and has a win and a second place to show for it. He does not have a road-course racing background… so why he is so good on this track?
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
The highest finishing non-Cup, non-road course racing specialist this week was Jason Leffler in sixth. It was an interesting situation for the Busch regulars this week: they not only had Cup drivers and road-course specialists, but a contingent of Mexican drivers to contend with as well, some of whom took rides away from regular drivers. On that note, the highest finishing road-course specialist was Said in third, while the best among the Mexican contingent was Jorge Goeters in seventh. The Raybestos Rookie of the Race was your winner.
The top 10 had a very international flavor this week. Race winner Montoya is Colombian, seventh-place Goeters and ninth-place Adrian Fernandez are Mexican and eighth-place Marcos Ambrose is Australian.
There’s also a new points leader in the Busch Series for the first time in over a year, as Carl Edwards took the top spot by 40 points over second-place Hamlin. Dave Blaney is now 62 points back in third, Greg Biffle is fourth and Kevin Harvick, who did not make the trip to Mexico, fell from first to fifth.
Buschwhackers In This Race: 9
Starting Spots Taken By Buschwhackers YTD: 56 of 127
Buschwhackers Finishing in Top 10: 3
Buschwhackers Finishing in Top 10 YTD: 22 of 30
Races Won by Buschwhackers YTD: 3 of 3
Buschwhackers Ranked in Top 10 in Busch Series Points Standings: 7
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Everybody here, the fans always treat us good, and really we want to give them a first-place. That would be my best present to them. I’ve won many times here in national championships when I was racing in Mexico, so to win an international championship would be very special.” – Adrian Fernandez
“I think everyone in NASCAR has been really good to me, and the fans have been amazing. I’m just really happy to be part of NASCAR. I’m enjoying myself a lot, and enjoying the racing.” – race winner Juan Pablo Montoya
“I’ve never met a driver that puts so much pressure on himself like he does. He’s so competitive. Yesterday, he missed the pole by just a fraction and he was very upset after that. Threw his glove down on the ground. I like that; I like to see someone with a fire in him. He wants to win, he doesn’t want to lose. And today, he says, ‘If I don’t win this race today, I will be very disappointed.'” – Felix Sabates on his driver, Juan Pablo Montoya
“Of all the people to take you out – your teammate. That was just lowdown, nasty, dirty driving.” – Scott Pruett
Next Up: The Busch Series continues their western swing with a stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Sam’s Town 300. Coverage starts at 3:00 ET on ABC on Saturday, March 10th.
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