NASCAR: Johnson wins late at Indy

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 27, 2009

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS ó Jimmie Johnson cashed in on the most expensive speeding ticket in NASCAR history, grabbing an improbable third victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a penalty to Juan Pablo Montoya blew the race wide open.
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 flagged him for speeding on a routine pit stop with 35 laps remaining, and the driver became unglued.
“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 begged his driver to calm down and focus on salvaging a solid points day, to no avail.
“Don’t tell me to relax, dude!” Montoya yelled. “We had this in the bag.”
Indeed he did, but the penalty took him out of contention and relegated him to an 11th-place finish. Montoya, who had moved as high as sixth in the Sprint Cup standings as he ran out front, instead lost a spot and is now 10th in the race for the Chase for the championship.
The difference in his paycheck was severe: Johnson earned $448,001 for the victory, while Montoya’s share of the purse was knocked down to $224,048.
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.
“I was cruise(ing). I was super fast,” a calmer Montoya said after the race.
Too fast, actually.
NASCAR said the electronic timing system caught Montoya twice exceeding the limit as he drove down pit road.
“There’s nothing to prove wrong,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition. “It’s about as simple math as you can use.”
The penalty opened up the race for anyone else to claim, and overshadowed Johnson’s third win in the last four years at Indy. Johnson, who won for the third time this season, also became the first driver to win in consecutive seasons since Indy opened to NASCAR 16 years ago.
Johnson wouldn’t speculate on if he would have won the race if Montoya had not been penalized.
“I do know I have the trophy,” he offered. “I hate it for him. I know it is a story, Juan led so many laps, but when we come back and look at it two months from now the stat sheet is going to have a ‘W’ next to my name. That’s all that matters.”
Current points leader Tony Stewart, a two-time Brickyard winner who finished third, wasn’t sure anyone could beat Montoya. A victim of his own Indy heartbreak, Stewart could commiserate with Montoya’s disappointments.
“He never really was challenged all day,” Stewart said. “He did a great job. I know what he’s feeling like ó he’s got to be sick inside. He had the car, he had the talent to do it, he just made a mistake and it cost him.”
Johnson had to hold off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin to get it, though. 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 polesitter 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 ó Martin and Jeff Gordon led the way in Chicago two weeks ago ó 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.
Greg Biffle was fourth and followed by 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 tiremaker spent 11 months diligently correcting the problem.
“Goodyear did a great job with the tires, that’s for sure,” said 15th-place finisher Carl Edwards. “I can’t imagine how much money they spent to come out here and make this a great race and a safe race for all of us.”