Vintage Montoya still breathtaking to see

Juan Pablo Montoya was brought to NASCAR to inject excitement, reach new fans and win races. His wild ride Sunday accomplished all three, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: March 5, 2007, 12:44 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

MEXICO CITY -- This Latino piloto is muy bueno. He's also a little wild and crazy when he wants to get to the front.

"That was vintage Montoya. How can I be surprised?"
-- Chip Ganassi

Juan Pablo Montoya just became Dale Earnhardt Sr. with a Spanish accent.

He won the Telcel-Motorola 200 Sunday with one of the most amazing drives through the field any racing fan could ever hope to see. It was classic Montoya: unmatched skill and unwise aggressiveness.

His historic victory came with controversy when Montoya spun out teammate Scott Pruett to take the lead with eight laps to go.

"This is a great day," Montoya said. "And it's huge for the Latin community. But I feel really bad for Scott. It's a tough moment, but when you have the momentum, you ain't gonna slow down."

The Colombian and former Formula One star even sounds like a NASCAR driver now. And Mexico saw the real NASCAR this time.

Emotions were sky-high on the track, in the pits and in the stands.

Pruett was furious; Montoya was apologetic. The latter's crew chief, Brad Parrott, was choking back tears. Parrott didn't know how to feel.

"I'm happy we won, but I'm upset that we wrecked Scott," Parrott said.

"Juan is the best driver in the world, but he has to get his head on a little. It's my fault. I feel bad for our team."

Thousands of screaming Mexican and Colombian fans felt awesome. They stood and cheered wildly as Montoya won it in a green-white-checkered finish.

Other than a Mexican victor, this is as good as it gets for the spectators at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course.

Montoya is the first Hispanic driver to win a NASCAR event. To do it in Mexico City made it all the better.

The fans loved it, and anyone watching back in the good old US of A also had to love a race with on-track action that took your breath away.

Now, who said road racing in stock cars is boring? They must have missed this show. The final 27 laps were dripping drama as Montoya proved what world-class talent can do with a good car.

Montoya's move to NASCAR already was big news. Now it's the biggest thing in the sport.

Montoya's No. 42 Dodge was the best car all day, but he thought his chances of winning were over when a fuel-hose problem in the pits dropped him from first to 21st before he roared back.

He had to pit again under caution to fill the tank. When the green flew on the restart, everyone saw just how good Montoya is. He passed 20 cars in only 17 laps.

He was 16th with 23 laps remaining. Two laps later, he was 12th , making moves around cars that most drivers wouldn't have the guts to try.

Montoya was ninth on a restart with 17 laps to go. He knew passing would get tougher the closer he got to the front, but he just kept charging.

He moved up three more spots in one lap. With nine laps left, Montoya was third before he passed Boris Said for second and set his sights on Pruett.

Pruett and Montoya are friends. Well, they were friends. They won the 24 Hours of Daytona together last month.

That wasn't on Montoya's mind when he got to Pruett's bumper entering Turn 1.

Montoya's did a dive-bomb move to the right and got inside Pruett's right-rear quarter panel. Pruett spun across the track and Montoya drove through the grass, cutting off Turn 2 to avoid Pruett's car.

"We could have had a 1-2 finish," Montoya said. "We braked about the same time, but Scott kind of stayed wide. I went inside, and when he came back down, I had nowhere to go. I blame myself because I had a fast enough car to pass him afterwards."

Team owner Chip Ganassi had only one team order: Don't wreck each other.

"Juan had 10-lap fresher tires," Ganassi said. "I don't know that he had to make a move like that so soon."

But Ganassi knows Montoya waits for no one. He saw it when Montoya won the Champ Car title for him in 1999 and the Indy 500 in 2000. And Ganassi has seen Montoya make other amazing runs to the front like the one Sunday.

"That was vintage Montoya," Ganassi said. "How can I be surprised?"

Montoya surprised himself this time. You don't go from 21st to first in 17 laps on a road course.

"When I was in open-wheel, that just didn't happen," Montoya said. "Once we had the problem, I just wanted to bring the car home and try to get a top-10 finish. But this is the reason I came to NASCAR, because of the racing."

And this is why NASCAR wanted Montoya.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter