Patience has never really seemed to be in Juan Pablo Montoya’s vocabulary — until Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Nextel Cup race on Infineon Raceway’s 1.99-mile, 10-turn permanent road course.
There was never any question that Montoya was a top-notch road racer. He had won seven times in Formula One before joining Chip Ganassi’s Nextel Cup program at the end of last season.
When Montoya could only muster a 32nd qualifying position in the Texaco/Havoline Dodge for the first of only two road courses on the Cup schedule, he was considered a long shot at best to win. Surprise, Montoya utilized patience to save fuel, the team put together a solid race strategy and Montoya captured his first Nextel Cup victory.
“We leaned the car out,” Montoya said. “I knew it was going to be close so I let it roll through the corners. We did a good job.”
Pole-winner Jaime McMurray was solidly in the lead in the latter stages, then Montoya got underneath him in the right-hand turn two heading up the hill and made the pass stick on lap 104 (of 110).
“I had a good run and out-braked him,” Montoya said. “It was a good place to pass him.”
McMurray ran out of gas with one lap to go and dropped all the way to 37th in the Crown Royal/Roush Racing Ford.
Kevin Harvick inherited second place, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton.
Series points leader and Vallejo native Jeff Gordon, a five-time winner of this race and four-time Cup champion, was dropped to 41st on the starting grid when his car failed tech inspection Friday. He came all the way back in the Hendrick/Dupont Chevrolet to finish seventh.
“It was a great run,” said Gordon, who became a father for the first time Wednesday. “I thought the guys called this race perfectly to come from that far back to inside the top 10. Once we got into some clean air and made some good lap times, you know, we played the strategy the best way we possibly could.”
Remarkably, the pit strategy by crew chief Steve Letarte and Co. had Gordon challenging for the lead at one point, but he was coming up a bit short on fuel.
“We had cautions fall our way, which was a good fortune for us to gain spots, but those guys [the front runners] were able to make it all the way and we weren’t and had to get a splash [of gas] and go.”
In addition to his seven F1 wins, Montoya was also the 1999 Champ Car champion and won the 2000 Indy 500 (both driving for Chip Ganassi when he was in the CART open-wheel series. Earlier this year, he won the NASCAR Busch Series race in Mexico City.
Toyota/Save Mart 350
1. Juan Pablo Montoya
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jeff Burton
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Greg Biffle
6. Tony Stewart
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Kyle Busch
9. Boris Said
10. Denny Hamlin