Commentary

Montoya's mistake defied logic

Updated: July 27, 2009, 9:12 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Juan Pablo Montoya was well on his way to winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard like Secretariat in the Belmont.

He had the field covered, including winner Jimmie Johnson and runner-up Mark Martin.

Montoya, the Colombian flash, was cruising. A historic victory was only laps away.

An Indy 500 winner was going to win the NASCAR race at the Brickyard for the first time. Everything was perfect Sunday in the No. 42 Chevy.

Just play it safe. No chances.

Crew chief Brian Pattie had a message for his driver: "Nobody close man. Focus on the track."

Apparently, that message was lost in translation.

The impossible happened, a mistake beyond belief. It defied logic.

Montoya was caught speeding on pit road with 26 laps to go. On his final stop, Montoya came in a little too hot, not once, but twice.

Juan Pablo Montoya
AP Photo/Robert BakerJuan Pablo Montoya's speeding penalty on pit road cost the No. 42 team a shot at victory Sunday.

NASCAR officials made the call, meaning Montoya would have to go down pit road again for a pass-through penalty. And Montoya's temper came out in full force.

"If they do this to me, I'm going to kill them," Montoya said on his radio. "There's no way. I was on the green [dash light].

"Thank you, NASCAR, for screwing my day. We had it in the bag and they screwed us because I was not speeding. I swear on my children and my wife."

Well, cut the man a little slack. Drivers say crazy things in the heat of the moment, especially if they just gave away the second-biggest race of the year.

Team owner Chip Ganassi was not in the house. Good thing. He might have fallen off the pit box.

But co-owner Felix Sabates had a request about the speeding call.

"I just want [NASCAR officials] to show me he was speeding," Sabates said on the telecast. "If they show me, I'll be happy with that."

OK. After the race, Sprint Cup director John Darby had the specifics about Montoya's double no-no.

Pit road has eight zones where the speed is measured. The speed limit in the pits at Indy is 55 mph. NASCAR gives the drivers a 5 mph cushion.

Darby said Montoya was caught over the cushion in Zones 2 and 4. Officially, the speed was recorded at 60.06 mph in Zone 2 and 60.11 mph in Zone 4.

"And he was already pushing it," Darby said. "He was over 59 miles per hour in most of the other zones."

Montoya's big boo-boo caused him to fall back to 12th. He finished 11th. Racing out front in clean air is much easier than racing in the middle of a pack of cars.

I feel really bad for him. If me or my teammates couldn't win, I absolutely was pulling for Juan. They sure had the car today.

-- Mark Martin

"It kinda sucks," Montoya said behind his hauler after the race. "But it is what it is. Everybody on the team did an amazing job. The car was cruising. It was stupid fast."

That it was, but stupid fast doesn't make up for a stupid gaffe. Montoya was much calmer when the race ended, but he still proclaimed his innocence.

"We had light on green every time," Montoya said. "But once [the penalty] happens, you can't change it. It's pretty frustrating."

The light Montoya refers to is a dashboard light that stays green if the car remains below a certain RPM level. Cup cars do not have speedometers, so speed is judged by the RPM gauge.

Maybe Montoya misread the light. Maybe it was calibrated wrong. Who knows what happened? But the result was devastating for Montoya.

"I feel really bad for him,'' Martin said of Montoya. "If me or my teammates couldn't win, I absolutely was pulling for Juan. They sure had the car today. But their day will come. It's tough, but it's happened to every one of us. Good days are still coming for them."

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a bad day. Montoya leaves Indy 10th in the standings, easily inside the Chase cutoff point with six regular-season events to go.

He is 100 points ahead of David Reutimann, who ranks one spot outside the 12-man playoff. That fact probably isn't too comforting for Montoya right now.

"I know what he's feeling," said Tony Stewart, who finished third. "It must just make him sick inside. He had the car and the team to do it today. He just made a mistake and it cost him."

Montoya led 116 of 160 laps, more laps than he had run up front in his three-year Cup career combined. He was wearing out the field. Montoya had a 5.5-second lead when he came to the pits for his last stop.

Even without the penalty, Montoya would have needed to fight off Johnson and Martin on a final restart with 24 laps to go.

No guarantees he could have held off the Hendrick Motorsports boys. But for everyone who saw it, this race will be remembered as Montoya's Monstrous Mistake.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter