The fans loved it. Drivers? Not so much
Juan Pablo Montoya likely won plenty of fans with his charge to the front of Sunday's Telcel-Motorola 200. His fellow drivers were not as pleased, writes David Newton.
MEXICO CITY -- Colombian and Mexican flags were waving proudly and fans were screaming praises in Spanish as Juan Pablo Montoya climbed on top of his car to celebrate Sunday's historic Busch Series victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
The reaction in the garage wasn't quite as favorable.
Scott Pruett was spouting profanity about the way his teammate from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates knocked him out of the lead with eight laps remaining.
Denny Hamlin and Boris Said were complaining that Montoya jumped the restart three times in the final six laps and that he was allowed to blend into the field illegally after pitting under yellow with 27 laps remaining.
Hamlin took the issue to Busch Series officials after the race.
So did Montoya win the favor of a country but lose the respect of those he'll have to face the remainder of the season?
Pruett thinks so.
The admiration and respect he had for Montoya after they teamed to win the Rolex 24 in Daytona Beach, Fla., last month was replaced by anger and confusion.
"He looked more like a rookie than a champion," Pruett said. "That was just a horse---- rookie mistake. He got too anxious, got in too deep and caught me in the corner.
"[Expletive]! That's what you expect out of first-year guys. Not guys that have the experience he has. Not on road courses."
Pruett was leading on a restart with eight laps remaining. Montoya, who had rallied from 21st to second after having to pit a second time because of a fuel-hose problem, closed fast as they headed into the first turn.
By the middle of the turn, Pruett was sideways and Montoya was driving through the grass to take the lead he never relinquished.
"Of all people to take out, a teammate," said Pruett, who rallied to finish fifth. "That was no-good, nasty, dirty driving. I can't put this into words. We talk and talk about it in meetings. That's just bad driving."
Montoya apologized in postrace interviews, but that didn't make Pruett or anybody on his team feel better.
"We could have been 1-2," he said. "We were both the class of the field. If he's faster, I'm not going to fight him. He had fresher tires. I wouldn't have fought him for it."
Ganassi admitted that Montoya could have been more patient and that he'll have to mend a few fences between his drivers.
Perhaps even between his teams.
Muttered one crew member: "It looks like it's gone from Team Ganassi to Team Montoya."
For as brilliant as Montoya is on road courses -- making moves most only dream about -- it was the consensus in the garage that he lacked patience in this situation.
"He just took out his teammate," said Said, who finished third. "I don't know what was going on in his mind. I just know what I saw. I wouldn't race my teammates like that.
"Who knows? Maybe he just made a mistake. Maybe he just got in over his head and couldn't stop."
That's the way Hamlin, who finished second, saw it.
"He was fast enough he could have passed him one lap later," the defending race champion said. "You get excited. He was probably upset he had to come back in [to pit]. A situation like that, when you commit that far into the corner, there was nothing else he could have done.
"He could have run off the course and avoided it, but I don't think he was willing to sacrifice himself."
The irony is that all Hamlin heard before the race was how Ganassi cars were instructed not to wreck each other.
"When you know you've got the dominant car, you don't want anything to keep you from winning," he said. "Everyone else knew he was going to have plenty of other opportunities to pass.
"I think he just thought, 'I've got to get him now.' He was just a little impatient."
Hamlin and Said agreed that impatience showed on the restarts after Montoya had the lead. Hamlin said NASCAR officials explained that they didn't have a great angle and that they would look at the replays for future reference.
Said had a good angle.
"He went about 200 feet early every time," he said. "He still would have won, so I don't think it would have changed the outcome."
Said was more worried about the way Montoya merged into the pack after pitting to rectify his fuel problem. Instead of blending in at the back of the continuous line of cars, he blended in where he was at the end of pit road.
Busch Series director Joe Balash said NASCAR had no problem with the restarts but would look at the way Montoya came back onto the track.
"He was obviously fast, and Ganassi had the fastest cars all week, but the officiating was less than par," Said said. "He pitted under yellow, and they let him back in the middle of the pack. That's not right."
That doesn't mean Said lost respect for Montoya. He couldn't say enough great things about the way the former Formula One star handled the field to become the first Hispanic driver to win in one of NASCAR's top three series.
He believes Montoya is a definite threat to win one or both of the road course races in Nextel Cup this season.
"I've been saying it from the beginning, in two years, he'll be like a Tony Stewart," Said said. "Before long, he'll be competitive everywhere he goes. He's that good."
Carl Edwards agreed, saying Montoya taught him a few things about road course racing that he'll use in the future.
"Road course racing is a whole different strategy and different mind-set," Edwards said. "Guys like [Jeff] Gordon and Stewart are really good at it. I believe Juan has the mentality down better than anybody out there. We'll see if he can apply it."
Pruett was equally complimentary of his teammate after they won the Rolex 24.
He might be again in time.
But for now, he doesn't know what to think.
"After Daytona I was really, really impressed," Pruett said. "After today it's not the same guy I drove with at Daytona."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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