Martin, Montoya Make Statement on Road to Miami for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Championship
Mark Martin Gets the Chase to a Miami Championship off to a good start with a win at Loudon (photo courtesy: Geoff Burke, Getty Images Sport)
Were this horse racing, the track announcer might be shouting: "Down the stretch they come ...” The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22—began with a bang at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as 50-year-old Mark Martin held off a furious attack by Miami resident Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin to hold his standing at the top of the points standings. Montoya jumped a remarkable seven spots, to sit fourth in points with just eight races remaining before a Champion is crowned in Miami.
Martin started the Chase as the points leader on the merit of his four "regular season" victories and now enjoys a 35-point cushion over the competition.
"Pinch me: I am sure I'm sleeping; I am sure I am dreaming," Martin said in Victory Lane. "This is my hardest place, a tough place."
Montoya raised an eyebrow with how Martin raced him in the final three-lap sprint at Loudon, suggesting that the veteran stopped his car to hold him up at the start of the run.
"What he did, not cool at all. I could have wrecked him," Montoya radioed his crew after the finish.
"He knows we're here. He knows," replied Montoya’s crew chief, Brian Pattie. "This will give them something to talk about for the next week."
Martin consistently has said that Montoya—former seven-time Formula One winner and IndyCar Champion—is one to watch in this Championship hunt. Montoya returned the respect after Chase Race 1.
"He hasn't won a championship and he wants one, pretty bad," Montoya said.
The win at Loudon is Martin's Sprint Cup Series-best fifth of the season and spoiled what could have been a breakout day for Montoya, who was making his 100th career start on his 34th birthday. Earlier in the weekend, he led every practice session as well as the race field to start the Sylvania 300 from the pole position. Montoya also led the most laps at Loudon (104) but was overcome by Martin after a late-race restart, leaving the Miami resident to focus on fending off Hamlin for second place.
While Martin won the battle, Montoya again served notice that he’ll be one to deal with as the Chase bears down on Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Championship finale on Nov. 22. Three-time reigning Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson—seeking NASCAR history as the only driver ever to win four consecutive Sprint Cup titles at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22—finish fourth, followed by Busch brothers Kyle and Kurt, respectively. Points-leader Martin and Montoya are separated in the Chase standings only by Johnson (2nd) and Hamlin (3rd).
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