Johnson grabs Indy win after late Montoya penalty
He never had to find out.
Montoya dominated Sunday's race at The Brickyard, only to lose his chance at a victory when NASCAR punished him for speeding on pit road. It blew the race wide open, and Johnson beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin for his third win in four years at Indy.
"To finish first, first you must finish," shrugged the three-time defending champion. "I hate him for it. I know it is a story, Juan led so many laps. We come back and look at it two months from now, it's going to be a 'W' next to my name on the stat sheet. That's all that matters."
Not to Montoya, who felt NASCAR wrongly flagged him for speeding and became unglued on his radio after the penalty.
In a performance that mirrored his dominating Indianapolis 500 victory nine years ago, Montoya was in cruise control as he led 116 laps and built a 5-second lead over the competition. Then NASCAR said he twice broke the speed limit on pit road during a routine stop with 35 laps remaining.
"I swear on my children and my wife that I was not speeding!" he shouted over his radio. "There is no way! Thank you NASCAR for screwing my day."
Crew chief Brian Pattie, aware NASCAR officials were monitoring Montoya's rant, begged his driver to calm down.
"Don't tell me to relax, dude!" Montoya yelled. "We had this in the bag."
At $223,953, it was the most expensive speeding ticket in NASCAR history: Johnson earned $448,001 for the victory, while Montoya's 11th-place finish netted him 224,048.
Even worse, after moving as high as sixth in the Sprint Cup standings when he was on pace to win the race, he instead lost a spot and is now 10th in the race for the Chase for the championship.
Still, the performance was reminiscent of Montoya's win in the 2000 Indy 500, when he led 167 of 200 laps in his first race at the storied track. His team celebrated his return Sunday with a retro paint scheme that duplicated that winning car, and as he clicked off lap after lap, it was deja vu for the Colombian driver.
And it showed that, in his third season since leaving Formula One, Montoya is finally a consistent stock-car driver.
"It's got to be tough to forget everything that's brought you to this level, you've built your success on, forget all that and start over," Johnson said of Montoya. "He's jumped into this thing head first. He's committed himself to doing a great job. That team is getting stronger. I think we'll see a lot more of Juan. I know today didn't work for him for points for the Chase, but I see him making the Chase and I see him being a threat."
He was at Indy until the penalty, which opened up the race for anyone else to claim. Johnson, who won for the third time this season and became the first driver to win in consecutive seasons since Indy opened to NASCAR 16 years ago, had to hold off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin to get it.
After Montoya's penalty, Martin moved into the lead for the restart with 24 laps to go and Johnson lined up on his outside. Johnson sailed to the front and pulled away, only to have to hold off Martin over a nerve-racking final five laps. Martin, who at 50 became the oldest pole-sitter in Indy's 100 years, finished second and moved up two spots in the standings to ninth.
"I would have liked to win it," Martin said. "Just got beat by Superman."
It was a 1-2 finish for Rick Hendrick for the second straight race — Martin and Jeff Gordon led the way in Chicago two weeks ago — and gave the team owner his seventh victory in 16 visits to The Brickyard.
"I still get chills when I walk down Gasoline Alley and see the grandstands on both sides of the track," Hendrick said.
Current points leader Tony Stewart was third and followed by Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers and Kevin Harvick, who grabbed his best finish in 15 races.
Kasey Kahne was seventh and followed by David Reutimann, four-time Brickyard winner Gordon and Matt Kenseth.
A cut tire caused Kyle Busch to finish 38th and drop out of contention for the Chase. The bad day cost him four spots in the standings. He is 14th with six races left to set the 12-driver Chase field.
"I think it's pretty self-explanatory that we're trying to fight for a spot in the Chase," said Busch, a three-time winner this season.
The tire problems that plagued last year's race were never a factor, as Goodyear made good on its promise to find the right compound for one of the biggest races of the season. Goodyear's product last year couldn't last longer than 10 to 12 laps, and the manufacturer spent 11 months diligently correcting the problem.
Last updated: 10:51 am Thursday, December 13, 2012