Engine failure sends Montoya out
FONTANA -- Juan Pablo Montoya has raced Indy-style cars, Formula One and stock cars. And when his day ended on Sunday at the Auto Club 500, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "That's racing."
Actually, it's racing when you're running. The problem is that Montoya was betrayed by his engine, which blew up on Lap 141, allowing the former Indy 500 and Champ Car champion a chance to beat the traffic home.
Montoya started second for the race, alongside Jamie McMurray, his teammate at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray won last week's Daytona 500 and Montoya finished 10th. Montoya led the first 29 laps Sunday and spent most of the first 100 laps in the top 10.
"Something broke" in the engine built by Earnhardt Childress Racing, Montoya said. "It was running fine. Something happened. It's a shame, we build such good motors, and to have one let go, it sucks. But it's racing."
Montoya finished 37th. All day he outperformed McMurray, who finished 17th.
By the time Montoya's Chevrolet needed a push to the garage, Montoya had fallen from the top 10 but was still solidly in the top 20.
"When the track was green we had really good balance," he said. "With rubber, not as good. We were working on it."
He said the longer the run, the better the car became, and then it would go off again. "We made some good changes," he said. "We gained on the car a ton."
Though he didn't seem particularly discouraged by the outcome, Montoya did make a telling observation.
"I don't know why, but always whenever we're competitive we're in the pit, and when we run with everyone we get caught speeding," Montoya said. "When we're running nose to tail [is] when that happens. It sucks when that happens. But it made the race a little more interesting."
His "speeding" reference was to last year's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis where he had the dominant car but was assessed a speeding penalty on pit road. Montoya is in his fourth season after leaving Formula One, where he posted seven victories. Many thought the two-mile track in Fontana might give him his first oval victory to go along with his road course victory at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., in 2007.
"Before the thing went, we were running fifth or sixth with a car that wouldn't turn," Montoya said. "The problem is when you get so far behind, it's hard to start making ground up, but we were working on that. For our goal, we were doing fine.
"Everybody with this Target Chevy keeps doing an amazing job. We got good race cars, but things like that happen. It's racing."
Montoya, 34, finished eighth in last year's Chase for the Championship and missed a golden opportunity to continue his drive for a second strong performance. He said he "easily" had a top five car, and if he did, he may well have been in the top five of the series heading into next week's race at Las Vegas.
Instead, he gave back the points he won at Daytona, to which Montoya again shrugged.
"I could have wrecked at Daytona and finished 10th here," he said. "It is what it is. It's racing."