Road to Miami: Harvick happy, Gordon not

Carnage at Talladega

Shortly after Jimmie Johnson forced him below the yellow line, a slowing Gordon was collected in a four-car wreck along with Jeff Burton (photo courtesy: Rusty Jarrett, Getty Images Sport)

If racing at Talladega is any indication—and the track long has been considered a bastion of NASCAR racing—the Sprint Cup Series could be headed for a phenomenal 2010 finish Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.)

Indeed, Race 9 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21) was NASCAR’s second-closest Sprint Cup-race finish in Talladega history. Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag by 0.011 over Jamie McMurray, whose Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate, South Florida’s Juan Pablo Montoya, finished third.

Points-leader Jimmie Johnson—in pursuit of a fifth-consecutive Sprint Cup Championship this fall at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21)—started from the pole but finished 31st. In the process, he saw his lead drop a full 82 points—from 108 entering Talladega to just 26 after it—over second-place Harvick.

Harvick used a final-stretch sling-shot maneuver to capture the win. He is seeking his first-ever Sprint Cup Championship title, to be crowned at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 21.

"We made a plan before the race, and I'm telling you, every piece of it played out exactly how we wanted to play it," said Harvick. "We put four tires on the car when we wanted to, we pitted when we wanted to, we stayed out of the pack when we wanted to until it was time.”

"It's hard to explain to you guys who aren't in cars," said McMurray, "but when there's someone directly behind you and they pull their car out of line really fast, it's like you pull a parachute in your car. It literally feels like you lose three or five miles an hour immediately, and when that happens the car that's doing the passing just has the momentum.”

"Really once he got underneath me, all I was doing was side-drafting and hoping I could stall him out and just get him back to the start-finish line."

On that final restart, Miami’s Montoya chose to run on the high side of the track with Denny Hamlin glued to the bumper of the No. 42. While they lost ground to the top two runners, they used the draft to close the gap while conserving fuel for the extra laps.

"It was cool," said Montoya. “You know, every restart it was a little bit different—you're in a different position, and you're always hoping that you had somebody good that you could push or you were always hoping that somebody would push you.

“The second restart, when I had Jamie in front, I thought, ‘Oh, here we go; we cleared him and we were looking pretty good.’ And for some reason, it just wasn't enough. But it's OK. I thought we had a chance at winning the race today when I had Hamlin behind, but for some reason the two were a little bit faster."

The victory was the first Cup series win at the track for Harvick. "Our sponsor's leaving us, and the best part about it is that they can leave while we're winning,” he said post-race, referring to primary-sponsor Shell moving to Penske Racing for 2011.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history was made when there were three attempts to end the race with the green-white-checker rule, which extended the race 12 laps and made it the longest in Talladega history. McMurray had the pressure on him in each of the three double-file restarts—including from South Florida-based teammate Montoya, as both EGR drivers advanced four spots in the Sprint Cup Series Championship standings, which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

Hendrick Motorsports fan-favorite Mark Martin finished fifth, while teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon added more fuel to their simmering feud. Gordon was collected in a late-race accident, this time involving the No. 48, for the second straight race but managed to finish on the lead lap in 22nd position. The accident left the four-time Champions needing to repair more than their cars.

“I was coming 10 mph faster than anybody, and the No. 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that,” Gordon said post-race. “It takes a lot to make me mad, and I am [angry] right now. You know, when a car is going that much faster, I don't know what it is with me and him right now, but whatever….”
 
Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Montoya and the rest of NASCAR’s best will continue the pursuit of the Sprint Cup Series Championship—to be crowned Nov. 21 on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway—next Saturday night at Richmond. The race will be broadcast on FOX and is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM.

All three of NASCAR’s premier racing series—the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series—again will crown Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). For Ford Championship Weekend ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

On The Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya at Talladega

"It was good, we needed this result. It is important to finish well….This is what we needed was a race like this."

South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya finished third in NASCAR’s second-closest Sprint Cup-race finish in Talladega history, as Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag by 0.011 over Montoya’s Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray.

With the Top 3 finish, Montoya jumped four spots to 20th in the standings for the Sprint Cup title, with the Champion to be crowned on Montoya’s “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

With late-race wrecks resulting in cautions extending the race 12 laps beyond the number scheduled, Montoya emerged on the third and final "green-white-checker" finish getting a push from behind from Denny Hamlin. "I had a really good restart, and I'm like: 'We got him. I'm with [Hamlin], I'm going to win this,'" Montoya said. "All of a sudden, the inside [drivers, Harvick and McMurray,] just took off."

Plagued by on-track accidents this season, Montoya has finished all of four races in their entirety, but he has three Top 5s and a Top 10 to show for it.

Said Montoya: “We've been involved in three wrecks where it's completely out of our hands, but it's part of racing….I think [we] have the potential to make the Chase, and we've just got to be smart about it….At least we're 4-for-4 now, and in the four finishes we got a Top 10 and three Top 5s.”

Montoya, South Florida’s NASCAR hometown’er continues his pursuit of the Sprint Cup Series Championship—to be crowned Nov. 21 on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway—next Saturday night at Richmond. The race will be broadcast on FOX and is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM.

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