Miami’s Montoya Charges into NASCAR Championship Contention (Nov. 20-22)
NASCAR at Infineon
South Florida’s own Juan Pablo Montoya and NASCAR’s best headed west to tackle the Infineon Raceway in Northern California’s wine country. In 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya became the only rookie to win at Infineon Raceway and is the first Latino to win a race in NASCAR’s top series after starting from the 32nd starting spot. With that win Montoya joined racing legends Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, IndyCar Series and Formula One. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas except when it comes to handicapping a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on a road-course. The odds makers in Las Vegas predicted that the winner at Infineon would be Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon or Juan Pablo Montoya. Kasey Kahne was not a favorite but stole the show with a masterful drive. Kahne assumed the lead after a fifth caution and rolled to his first road course win of his NASCAR career.
Kahne grabbed the lead for the final time with 34 laps to go and then beat Tony Stewart to the finish line for his first victory of the season and the 10th of his Sprint Cup Series career. Kahne gave Richard Petty Motorsports its first win since “The King” merged his team with Gillett Evernham Motorsports before the start of the 2009 season.
Prior to his win at Sonoma, Kahne had never finished in the Top-10 in a NASCAR road-course race. His best finish was 14th, which came at Watkins Glen. The win moved Kahne up two spots in the standings to 13th, just three points away from a berth in the Chase.
“The Chase is what we work for every year. We need to have a car in that Chase,” Kahne said. “We’ve run strong for the last six races ... top-five, top-10 material. I know we have a great opportunity if we keep showing up and working as hard as we have been to make the Chase.”
Petty’s race team teetered on the verge of collapse at the end of last season and needed a January merger with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports to secure the storied NASCAR team.
Kahne muscled past Jupiter resident Scott Speed to hang on for the win over a hard-charging road course specialist Tony Stewart. “Smoke” managed to salvage his sixth Top-2 finish of the season. Kasey Kahne ended a year long winless streak by winning at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway. The Marcos “ The Tasmanian Devil” Ambrose ran a fantastic race and ended up 3rd.
Miami’s own Montoya turned in a sixth-place finish and moved into the Top 12 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
"The Target Chevy was really good at the beginning of the race. We made a lot of adjustments and I think we actually screwed it up more than we helped it,” said Montoya following the race. “But it's great. We finished 6th and it was another good points day. This is all we needed to do and we did that. The bigger picture is good so I can't really complain."
IndyCar Series Championship Implications at Iowa
If history repeats itself, Dario Franchitti will be crowned IndyCar Series champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway following the Firestone Indy 300 Oct.10. Franchitti won at Iowa in 2007 and went on to win the title before heading to NASCAR. The drivers in the IndyCar Series began a four week stretch that may help decide who will be champion in 2009. The swing started at Iowa Speedway and when it's over, the series will have gone through two short tracks, a road course and a street circuit.
Coral Gables resident Helio Castroneves started from the pole at Iowa after qualifying was cancelled due to water seeping through the track. Castroneves had contact with Scott Dixon early in the race, forcing both cars to pit for repairs. Dixon finished fifth.
Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Danica Patrick went into the race at Iowa atop the leader board in the championship standings. Of the Top 4 in points only Dario Franchitti has won at Iowa. His victory came in 2007 while driving for Andretti Green Racing.
Dario Franchitti is now two-for-two at Iowa Speedway. The 2007 winner at the track found his way back to Victory Lane after by 5.0132 seconds over Ryan Briscoe at Iowa. Franchitti's second victory of the season moved him within three points of Briscoe, who remains the IndyCar Series Championship points leader. For the third consecutive race, Briscoe led the most laps but finished second.
"It's all a bit of a blur at the moment. This was a very, very physical race with the speeds we run here and the humidity today,” said Franchitti from Victory Lane. “ Our pit stops were awesome, and one of the tricks we learned here [winning in] 2007 was how to keep your car fast here throughout a run, especially early on cold tires.”
Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh finished third, one spot lower than his career-best finish at the track last year, and Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon finished fourth as the top four finishers came from different teams.
Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series at Mid-Ohio
Three-time Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series champions Ganassi Racing set out to stop Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing from winning a record third consecutive victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Gurney and Fogarty turned in one the GAINSCO team's most dominating performances to win the 2007 race and then made a record comeback in the rain last year for their second Mid-Ohio win in a row. The duo had their eyes on a possible "three-peat" entering the race.
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing started from the pole and after leading the first two laps of the race, they barely challenged again. Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley, placed third.
Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas survived some hard charging from Ricardo Zonta to pull out a victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"We scrapped all day long," said Pruett, who notched his record 22nd Grand-Am victory. "We had all the bad luck and then all of a sudden the sun started shining on us."
The Pruett/Rojas tandem was penalized with a stop-and-go penalty, plus 10 seconds, for fueling under caution before a green lap was completed which put them one lap down.
A mid-race caution, combined with an almost instant pit stop, triggered the triumph. With Pruett behind the wheel, the Chip Ganassi team was able to leapfrog from fourth to first. After building better than a three-second lead with 32 minutes to go, a full-course caution came out, allowing the field to bunch behind the leader. Pruett held the lead on the restart with 22 minutes left and had lapped traffic to navigate.
With the victory, Pruett and Rojas took sole possession of the Daytona Prototype point lead, 11 points ahead of Gurney and Fogarty. Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle entered the event with a share of the lead, but are now third, 12 points behind.
Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas placed fourth for Penske Racing and are now fourth in the season points standings, 13 points behind.