Commentary

No brick-kissing for Montoya ... again

Updated: July 26, 2010, 11:38 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Juan Pablo Montoya never stopped. He drove his crumpled No. 42 Chevrolet to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage, crawled out and walked straight into his motor coach, shaking his head and muttering in disbelief before disappearing.

By the time Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray took the checkered flag, Montoya was in a car with a police escort, leaving these hallowed grounds for the airport. Had he looked out the window and seen the wild celebration, he likely would have said, "That should have been me."

It should have been.

It easily could have been.

For the second straight year.

[+] EnlargeJuan Pablo Montoya
AP Photo/Tom StrattmanBefore the race started, Juan Pablo Montoya, right, was the odds-on favorite to get team owner Chip Ganassi a Brickyard 400 victory on Sunday.

Montoya dominated, leading 86 of the first 139 laps before a caution came out for debris with 21 laps to go. There was no hesitation in crew chief Brian Pattie's voice when they came down pit road.

Four tires.

They should have taken two. McMurray's team and five others did. Montoya was stuck in dirty air and, trying to make up too much ground too fast, got into the wall with 15 laps remaining. Dale Earnhardt Jr. then got into the No. 42, and that was the end of Montoya's day. He finished 32nd.

Heartbreak. The same heartbreak Montoya felt a year ago when a speeding penalty with 35 laps to go ended another dominating performance -- he led 116 laps but finished 11th.

Montoya was so distraught this time that he wouldn't -- couldn't -- comment. Pattie was so distraught that he wouldn't -- couldn't -- come out of his hauler. His only words were delivered by an EGR public relations representative.

"Bad call," Pattie said. "Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires."

We'll never know for sure. Had Montoya not crashed, there might have been another caution or two, and four tires would have paid off and NASCAR's only Colombian-born driver would have become the first to win the Indianapolis 500 (in 2000) and Brickyard 400.

Instead, McMurray became the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006).

"[Montoya] had the best car," said McMurray, who had the advantage of knowing what his teammate would do.

Montoya had the best car from the time he rolled it off the hauler on Friday. He dominated the first two practices and won the pole. Except for Greg Biffle, who finished third after taking four tires, nobody had a lot for him.

Even when restarting seventh with 18 laps to go, Montoya was confident.

"We're winning this…" he radioed.

The confidence quickly disappeared. Montoya yelled over his radio how he couldn't do anything. Pattie tried to keep his driver's head in the game, pleading, "C'mon, buddy, I know it's terrible dirty air."

Montoya responded, "We should have taken two."

The next radio communication was, "You're in the wall." Then out of nowhere, the left front of Earnhardt's car destroyed the right rear of Montoya's.

"I couldn't miss him," Earnhardt said. "I drove into the door of Marcos [Ambrose] and into the back of the 42. I just wish he could have gotten his car further off the racing line when he was heading into the pit road. I just really didn't have much I could do."

That's the way Montoya's season has gone. He's had cars capable of running in the top 10, often the top five, for most of the season. But he's had little to show for it. Five races, including three of the past four, have ended in crashes. Another ended with engine failure. Another ended with suspension problems.

Montoya should be contending for the Chase for the second straight year. Instead, he is 22nd in the standings, hopelessly 325 points out of the 12th and final playoff spot with six races to go before the playoff field is set.

"It hasn't been their year," McMurray said. "I would guess they're not shocked."

Maybe not in a few days, but in the immediate aftermath there was shock. Anger. Frustration.

You could see it. You could feel it.

"I really believed this was Juan's weekend," McMurray said.

It certainly appeared to be. It could have made all the headaches of the previous 17 weeks disappear.

Felix Sabates I feel for Juan, especially since his teammate didn't have the dominant car. [McMurray's team] just made some good pit calls, and Jamie's kissing the bricks and Juan is kissing the window of his airplane.

-- Minority team owner Felix Sabates

But Montoya will get over this. He'll come to Pocono next weekend ready to win, likely shrugging his shoulders and pretending that what happened was no big deal.

"Juan will chew on it for about three hours on the way to Florida," minority owner Felix Sabates said. "He'll drink four Gatorades and say, 'The heck with it.'"

But it was a big deal. Montoya could have made history. Winning on an oval, particularly this oval, could have started him on the kind of streak we're accustomed to seeing from Jimmie Johnson.

He's that good.

"He's mad, but he'll get over it," said EGR co-owner Chip Ganassi, who earlier smiled and agreed that Montoya should have taken two tires.

Maybe. But you couldn't help but wonder what Montoya was thinking as he flew to the airport while McMurray was getting his lips dirty on bricks. That Colombian temper he often jokes about has to be through the roof.

"I feel for Juan, especially since his teammate didn't have the dominant car," Sabates said. "[McMurray's team] just made some good pit calls, and Jamie's kissing the bricks and Juan is kissing the window of his airplane."

And likely saying, "That should have been me."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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