(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Juan Pablo Montoya could easily be riding a two-win streak -- on an oval and a triangular track, no less -- into his strongest suit, road racing, this week.
In other words, Montoya could be the hottest driver in NASCAR.
Had he not been bumped up the racetrack by Kasey Kahne on the final restart, Montoya might well have won the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono on Monday. And that of course came right on top of the pit-road speeding penalty that snuffed his domination at Indianapolis on July 27.
So as it is, Montoya settled for second to Denny Hamlin at Pocono and is still looking for his first win of the season heading to Watkins Glen, N.Y., this weekend.
Yet he's exactly where he wants to be -- on a tear toward making the Chase, eighth in points, 169 ahead of the current odd man out, 13th-place Kyle Busch.
"Ifs and buts out," Montoya told reporters at Pocono, shrugging off the two near misses, "my goal is making the Chase."
Of the momentum he is building without quite the results to show for it, "I think we got fast race cars," he said of his branch of the otherwise-struggling Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team. He and crew chief Brian Pattie are "just starting to push more the envelope with everything we do.
"I think if we make it [the Chase], we might have a shot at this."
A shot, he meant, at the Cup, and becoming the first foreign-born driver ever to win it.
Going to the Glen this weekend certainly doesn't hurt the playoff chances of the former Formula One star from Colombia.
"I know we can probably win the race," he said, "but if we can get a top-5 out of there, the points for the Chase would be huge."
At Pocono, Montoya and Kahne started in the second row of the final double-file restart, with Hamlin sixth. But Hamlin shot to second, and set sail after then-leader Clint Bowyer, after Kahne was pushed into Montoya going into the corner, sending Montoya's car skating up the track.
"It's good Juan Pablo is one of the best drivers, or he would have been wrecked," said Kahne, who went to Montoya to apologize afterward.
"I get pushed on restarts because my car isn't as fast," Kahne explained. "So I got pushed on it, and I missed the corner and drilled him. Most guys would have wrecked right there, but the 42 kept going."
"Actually it came out pretty good," Montoya cracked, drawing laughter from the media corps.
He didn't win, but he didn't wreck, and he's well on his way to the Chase.
Nationwide Series: Keselowski prevails in inaugural Iowa shootout
For an afternoon, NASCAR racing was fresh, electrifying and on the rise in the public's fancy.
No, this wasn't a decade ago.
It happened Saturday, in the inaugural Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway, where there was standing room only. Those who'd paid for the 60,000 seats didn't sit down much, roaring approval of the ongoing battle.
Iowans found a new favorite driver, race winner Brad Keselowski.
And they got to watch the villain they'd seen on TV, Kyle Busch, get beat live and in person.
This was NASCAR's own Field of Dreams, 160 miles west of the old movie site.
"This place deserves a Cup race," Keselowski told ESPN reporters in Victory Lane. "It really does. When you get support the way we [the whole Nationwide traveling show] did from these fans, it shows how strong this community is."
They got their money's worth, by the standards of the most jaded fans.
From midway through the U.S. Cellular 250 on, Keselowski and Busch drove an epic duel, swapping the lead and often running side by side.
Even after Keselowski made what turned out to be the winning pass with eight laps to go, the matter wasn't settled until he finally broke free of Busch's last-ditch onslaught with three laps left.
Busch took right-side tires on his final pit stop while Keselowski stayed out, opting to finish on old tires.
Despite the tire difference, "We just wheeled 'er, man," Keselowski said.
Busch didn't take a hike this time after his stinging disappointment, but the distraught look on his face as he sat on the pit wall afterward spoke volumes.
"Very, very disappointing," he said.
Reminded that he has now finished either first or second in the last nine Nationwide races, tying a record, Busch remembered that six times in the streak he's been runner-up, and said grimly, "Just imagine if all those seconds were wins."
Camping World Truck Series: Sticky throttle no problem for record-setting Hornaday
A frightening thing kept happening to Ron Hornaday Jr. on his way to a record fifth straight win.
His throttle kept sticking, and still he became the first driver ever to win five in a row in the Camping World Truck Series, and the first in any of NASCAR's top three divisions since Richard Petty and Bobby Allison each won five straight at the Cup level in 1971.
So Hornaday's win of Saturday night's Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway wasn't nearly as breezy as it looked while he was dominating the field and even breaking away from Brian Scott easily on a green-white-checkered finish.
"The throttle was sticking going into the corners," Hornaday told Speed TV reporters at Nashville. "I was lifting it up with my toe."
Drivers fear the malfunction as much as any in motor racing. Stuck throttles were blamed for causing the fatal crashes of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. in 2000.
But Hornaday, a 51-year-old veteran, is savvy enough to have a metal toe loop on his accelerator pedal, for just such emergencies.
He even had to fight the problem while pitting: "I was coming into the pits faster than anybody else," he said.
Under the final caution, heading into the green-white-checkered overtime, "Rick [Ren, his crew chief] said, 'Save fuel.' I said, 'How do I save fuel with the throttle stuck halfway open?' So I shut the ignition off three or four times," and coasted whenever he could under caution.
Ordeal that the apparent runaway was, Hornaday turned his thoughts to the record.
"This is -- with Richard Petty and five! Can you believe that?"
In Cup, six drivers since Petty and Allison's '71 marks won four in a row, only to come up short on the fifth: Dale Earnhardt in 1987, Harry Gant in '91, Bill Elliott in '92, Mark Martin in '93, Jeff Gordon in '98 and Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
Hornaday easily could extend the streak to six or more. The next Truck race is at Bristol, Tenn., on Aug. 19, and Hornaday is the series maestro of short tracks.
Ren, asked where their effort might go from here, said with elation of their open-ended possibilities, "I don't know!"
By the way, for the record, Hornaday did NOT smash the custom trophy Gibson guitar he was awarded, as Kyle Busch had in June in Victory Lane at Nashville after winning a Nationwide race there. Hornaday kissed it, and handled it carefully.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racing Resources SaysSprint Cup Series
- Denny Hamlin won the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway on a sunny Monday afternoon after the race was delayed a day by rain Sunday. Hamlin scored his fifth Sprint Cup Series career victory in his 136th career start.
- Hamlin scored his third victory at Pocono, the only Sprint Cup Series track where he has scored multiple victories. Hamlin also has one victory at Loudon and Martinsville. Hamlin has scored finishes of sixth or better in seven of his eight races at Pocono.
- Hamlin's win marked the first victory by Toyota at Pocono Raceway. Toyota scored its sixth win in 2009. Chevrolet has scored 11 wins in 21 races in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Dodge and Ford each have two.
- Hamlin's last win came at Martinsville in March 2008. Hamlin has scored five top-5 finishes in the last seven races and has climbed from 12th to fifth in points in that span.
- Hamlin became the 12th different race winner in 2009. He led six times for 91 laps, including the final 10, the most by any driver.
- This marked the 73rd Sprint Cup Series victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and the team's seventh win at Pocono. All five of Hamlin's victories have come with Joe Gibbs Racing and crew chief Mike Ford. Four of his five victories came on superspeedways.
- Juan Pablo Montoya (finished second) scored his best Pocono finish and best finish of the season. Montoya has scored top-15 finishes in the last eight races, extending a streak that began at Pocono in June, all finishes of 12th or better.
- Clint Bowyer (third) scored his best Pocono finish in eight races there.
- Sam Hornish Jr. (fourth) scored his career-best finish.
- Kasey Kahne (fifth) posted his sixth straight top-15 finish, extending a streak that began at Infineon, where he won.
- Brian Vickers (sixth) posted his fourth straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Daytona.
- Tony Stewart (10th) has scored top-10 finishes in the last nine races, extending a streak that began at Dover. Stewart posted his 12th superspeedway top-10 finish in 14 superspeedway races in 2009 (restrictor-plate races excluded), the most by any driver.
- Jimmie Johnson (13th) was running at the finish for the 250th time in his career. Johnson has led at least one lap in 17 of the 21 races in 2009, the most by any driver.
- Kyle Busch (16th) has scored just one top-10 finish in the last nine races. Busch ranks 13th, 101 points behind 12th-place Greg Biffle and a spot in the 2009 Chase.
- Jeff Burton (21st) has finished 16th or worse in the last seven races, since Michigan in June.
- Scott Speed (23rd) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
- Michael Waltrip (31st) was running at the finish for the 600th time in his career.
- Stewart (10th) and Elliott Sadler (24th) have each been running at the finish in the last 44 races, the longest current streak.
- The top 10 consisted of five Chevrolets, three Dodges and two Toyotas.
- Brad Keselowski won the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. It was Keselowski's second series victory of 2009 and fourth overall win in his 90th start.
- JR Motorsports scored its sixth series victory and second of 2009.
- Keselowski was the first driver to win one of the Nationwide Dash for the Cash races and was awarded a $75,000 bonus. Kyle Busch leads the Nationwide Dash for the Cash points by five over Keselowski; the points leader gets a $50,000 bonus following Memphis.
- Busch (second) has finished in the top two in the last nine races, tying Sam Ard for the longest streak in series history. Busch has led in 18 consecutive races. If he leads at Watkins Glen he will tie Ard's record for most consecutive races with at least one lap led (19).
- Busch has a 207-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards in the Nationwide Series standings.
- Jason Leffler (third) posted his 16th top-10 finish of 2009.
- Carl Edwards (fourth) has finished in the top 10 in 12 of the last 13 races.
- Kelly Bires (fifth) scored his third top-10 finish in 11 races this season. It was his third career top-5 finish.
- Jason Keller (sixth) scored his sixth top-10 finish of 2009.
- Kenny Wallace (seventh) has finished in the top 10 in the last two races. The last time Wallace finished in the top 10 in consecutive races was in 2005.
- Michael McDowell (eighth) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender for the fifth time this season.
- Ron Hornaday Jr. won the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, extending his winning streak to five consecutive races. He is only the third driver in NASCAR history to win in five consecutive races and the first since Richard Petty in 1971. It was his 45th series victory in his 239th start and his sixth win of 2009, the most of all drivers.
- Rick Ren scored his series-record 27th win as a crew chief.
- Hornaday has now led in 12 consecutive races, tying Jason Leffler for the second-longest streak in series history. Mike Skinner holds the record with 19. Hornaday led a race-high 115 of the 152 laps.
- Hornaday now has a 216-point lead over Matt Crafton in the standings.
- Kevin Harvick Inc. scored its 24th series win and first at Nashville.
- Chevrolet scored its second series win at Nashville and seventh of 2009.
- Brian Scott (second) scored his eighth top-10 finish of 2009. He has finished in the top three in four of the last 10 races.
- Colin Braun (third) posted his eighth top-10 finish of 2009 and sixth in the last seven races.
- Timothy Peters (fourth) matched his career-best finish after winning his first career pole.
- Matt Crafton (fifth) posted his 11th top-10 finish of 2009, the second most of the season behind Hornaday (12).
- Johnny Sauter (sixth) was the highest-finishing of the four rookie of the year contenders.
- The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, two Fords and four Chevrolets.