After Juan Pablo Montoya dominated practice and qualifying at Indianapolis, taking the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400, owner Chip Ganassi knew he’d have a strong shot at kissing the bricks.
But no one ever expected him to be pulling that makeout session with somebody else.
Montoya’s teammate Jamie McMurray, this year’s Daytona 500 champion, surged late in the race, passed Kevin Harvick on the final green-flag restart and held serve to bring home his second big win of 2010. Leading the final 11 laps, he came across the line nearly 1.4 seconds in front to give Ganassi the historic auto racing trifecta of the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year.
“I’m the luckiest guy on the planet,” he said after the race. “You wouldn’t dare dream this, you wouldn’t dare to dream this kind of year. That is the kind of year it has been.”
And so was his other driver. It was a tale of two extremes at EGR, with Montoya’s victory chances dashed during McMurray’s sudden surge. The pre-race favorite did not disappoint, leading 86 of 160 laps. But when a debris caution – the fourth of the race – slowed the field on lap 139, a strategy call for four tires dropped him from first to seventh. Moments later, Montoya would get stuck in traffic on the restart, push the issue and slam the No. 42 Target Chevy straight into the outside wall on lap 147.
“Crew chief error,” said Brian Pattie afterwards, the lone comment from a stunned driver and team after the race. “We should have taken two tires.”
Montoya wrecked en route to 32nd while collecting Dale Earnhardt Jr., who dropped to 27th, in what became the race’s final caution. That gave the edge to McMurray and Harvick, two of six drivers that took two tires under caution, who then battled for the lead themselves on the ensuing restart.
“My car was real tight; he gave me the outside, and it just gave me what I needed,” said McMurray. “My car was better at the end.”
That left him coasting to victory, indirectly snatching it right out of his teammate’s grasp.
“Honestly, when Juan was leading and I was in second, and I am a big believer in fate, and I just thought this is the way it is meant to be,” the incredulous driver said said. “I thought well, ‘I won the Daytona 500 and Dario [Franchitti] won the Indianapolis 500 and then Juan is going to win this race.’ I really thought this was his day, but it just show you that you never give up and you just drive your heart out every lap.”
As for the call on pit road that got him up front, McMurray was honest about his thought process at the time.
“I thought I had a flat tire on the left front, but I knew if we put four tires on we weren’t going to have a chance to win,” McMurray said. “I didn’t feel like we could pass the cars we needed to. [Crew Chief Kevin Manion] said that when we came in, we didn’t have a flat. Man, when it is your day, it is your day. Everything just worked out. Our pit crew did a great job getting us off of pit road, really fast every time. It is just remarkable.”
Harvick was forced to settle for second, his best finish at Indy since winning in 2003. It was a bittersweet ending for the points leader, whose choice of line on the restart made the difference in getting McMurray out front.
“I got tight going into turn 1 there in the middle, just had to wait on my car, and Jamie was able to carry the momentum around on the outside,” Harvick said. “The first restart [after the debris caution] my car actually took off and we were able to get by him but my car never acted like that again. It was a good day for our Shell-Pennzoil Chevy, and everybody did a great job just putting us in position. I felt like we had a top-five car, but [we] didn’t have a winning car. We just came up a little short.”
Harvick just barely held off Greg Biffle for third. Biffle challenged Montoya all day, but fell victim to the same four-tire strategy that left him with too much traffic to contend with at the end. Trying to bypass Harvick, he pulled a four-wheel slide in the corners but was never able to get into a position to pass him.
Clint Bowyer was able to make a late-race maneuver on Tony Stewart to garner fourth place while Stewart, whose car had not been good during the practice sessions on Saturday, used the two-tire strategy to come home fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch.
The race had a bizarre beginning, with Kyle Busch losing control on the second turn of the first lap of the race. Eight cars were collected, including former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., Bobby Labonte and Elliott Sadler. Moments later, an unidentified car drove through the grass while going through a turn, throwing sod on the track that clogged up the grills of Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards and Brad Keselowski. All of the above made unscheduled stops, with Edwards the lone man who recovered for a top-10 finish. Ryan Newman and Gordon also experienced tire problems, the latter occurring on lap 15 just as Max Papis was blowing up his engine. Just like that, two cautions had left less than 35 cars on the lead lap.
“I’m sure they cleaned the racetrack, but maybe they missed the apron,” said Gordon of his contribution to the madness, speculating as to why his tire went down. “I felt it and was like, ‘Oh, man.'”
One can only imagine the “oh, man” feeling Montoya and Co. have inside this morning.
- This victory is McMurray’s fifth win in 278 Cup series starts.
- This is his second win and seventh top 10 in 2010.
- This was McMurray’s first win and fourth top 10 in eight Brickyard 400s.
- This race marks the first time in his career that Bowyer has recorded back-to-back top-five finishes.
- Jacques Villeneuve finished 29th and became the 13th driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. His finish was the best among the three drivers in the field who have won both events.
- Jeff Gordon’s 23rd -lace finish marked the fourth time in his career that he’s finished outside the top nine in his 17 career starts in the event.
- This was the first Brickyard 400 without a Hendrick car in the top 10.