Aggressive Montoya takes checkered in Mexico

Updated: March 4, 2007, 8:22 PM ET
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY -- Juan Pablo Montoya spun teammate Scott Pruett to take the lead with eight laps left, then held off Denny Hamlin to win the Busch Series race on Sunday for his first NASCAR victory.

Montoya, the Colombian star who jumped from Formula One to NASCAR late last season, recovered from a bad pit stop to aggressively move from 19th to first, taking the lead when he sent Pruett's car spinning on the 72nd lap of the Telcel-Motorola 200.

"I'm very sorry about what happened with Scott," Montoya said. "I thought he saw me and when he came across I had no room to go."

Montoya said he would personally apologize to Pruett.

"Of all the people to take out -- your teammate," Pruett said. "That was just lowdown, nasty, dirty driving."

Hamlin, right behind the two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers at the time, said it was a tough call.

"I wouldn't call it dirty driving, but it was a bit aggressive," Hamlin said. "Juan had the fastest car and he would have taken the lead sooner or later. He was overzealous."

Hamlin, the winner last year, pressured Montoya in the closing laps, but couldn't pass on the 2.518-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course's s-curves.

Boris Said finished third in the race that ended with a green-white-checker finish after a late caution. Carl Edwards was fourth, and Pruett finished fifth.

"I'm really glad we won, but really upset that we took out a teammate," said Brad Parrott, Montoya's crew chief.

Montoya, who had the dominant car for the entire race, started in third but took the lead from Pruett on the third lap.

Montoya made a green-flag stop on the 45th lap, but a fuel malfunction forced him to return to the pits about 10 laps later. After a caution, he started 19th and quickly moved his way back to the front of the field.

"The reason I came to NASCAR is for the racing, and we showed today it is a great place for racing,' Montoya said.

His victory was celebrated with deafening cheers from the 72,000-strong Mexican crowd. Montoya gained a following in Mexico with Formula N victories back in the 1990s.

The Mexican fans were hungry for a fellow Latino to win a NASCAR event in Mexico after two years in which U.S. drivers took the crown south of the border.

"It's huge for the Latin community and for everybody who supported me," Montoya said. "Every time I'm out there I want to shine. To be able to convert this into victory shows where the Ganassi team is going. Hopefully we can share a lot more successes."

Two Mexican drivers finished in the top 10.

Jorge Goeters started fourth and held the lead for three laps before finishing seventh. It was a personal best for the Mexico City native who stunned the field by winning the pole for the 2005 race.

"I'm very excited," Goeters said. "This is the kind of race that everybody loves. Nobody knows who's going to win until the white flag is coming up. Congratulations to Juan Pablo."

Adrian Fernandez, Mexico's best known driver, finished ninth.

The course features eight tight turns and was tough for many Busch Series regulars used to negotiating oval tracks.

David Reutimann, who finished 12th in a Toyota, said he had never seen turns like these in his life.

"I definitely learned a lot," he said. "We had to run off the track one time but other than that we stayed on course, and they told me if I kept clean I would come home with a top 15."

Others got in more trouble and there were a total of eight cautions, including the Montoya-Pruett bump.

Pruett was involved in another incident in the 25th when he passed Venezuela's Alex Garcia, leading to a minor bump that sent Garcia spinning.

In lap 66, Australian Marcos Ambrose driving a Ford and J.J. Yeley in his Chevrolet banged each other near the front of the pack sending each other spinning. Yeley's engine went after the incident and he finished 37th, while Ambrose recovered and finished eighth.

"I got spun and then he spun out. But that's NASCAR. You've got to roll with it," Ambrose said. "I put my head down and just tried to come back as best I could."

Officials said a total of 116,118 came to the track during the three days with 72,971 watching Sunday's race, a similar attendance to last year.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press