Chasing a Championship—Clock Ticking on Road to Miami

Montoya Survived to Finish 20th Last Year at Darlington

Montoya in the No. 42 received right front damage when David Ragan spun but managed to finish 20th last year at Darlington (photo courtesy: John Harrelson, Getty Images Sport)

Fresh off a third-place finish last weekend in Richmond, Kevin Harvick heads to Darlington this weekend having taken the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead from four-time reigning Champion Jimmie Johnson. Saturday night is Race 11 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21). For ticket information to see the Champions crowned, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

"You look at that and you say, 'We can lead the points after 10 races,'" said Harvick. "But in order to get better, we got to get a little better on pit road, be more consistent. When we make mistakes, we make big mistakes."

With a quarter of the 2010 season in the rearview mirror, NASCAR’s elite is aware that the clock is ticking on qualifying in the Top 12 to be eligible for the Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

Sitting sixth in the race for the 2010 Championship is Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, who leads all active drivers with seven victories at Darlington. Last weekend at Richmond, he led late only to have Kyle Busch pass him in the closing laps following the final restart.

Said Gordon: "Track position is extremely important. You have to compromise as a driver, as a team, with the set up because both ends of the race track [at Darlington] are totally different, so you're never going to have a perfect car or perfect set up. As a driver, you have to work around that and try to find the fastest way. That place is fast now, and it's hard to pass."

The four-time Cup Champion could have multiple wins by now if circumstances had favored him more in 2010. Pit-road calls, on-track entanglements and a pair of incidents with another four-timer, teammate Johnson, all have foiled potential Gordon victories.

With his win at Richmond, Busch moved up to third in the Sprint Cup standings, just 109 points behind leader Harvick. The entire Joe Gibbs Racing team is focused on getting back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after narrowly missing NASCAR's playoffs in 2009. This year’s Chase will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

Said Busch: "You want to win every race, but sometimes you have to take what the car is going to give you. I feel like we were getting closer and closer to winning every week, but I didn't know how far away we were. It feels great to get that first win because it was a big confidence boost for my guys and for Dave [Rogers, crew chief].”

The next stop for Busch, Gordon, Harvick, South Florida’s own Juan Pablo Montoya and all of NASCAR’s elite is Darlington on Saturday, May 8 (7:30 p.m., FOX TV). It’s Race 11 of 36 en route to crowning the Sprint Cup Champion in Miami Nov. 21. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

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 Darlington

South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya rallied to a sixth-place finish last weekend at Richmond, the fifth Top 10 this season for NASCAR’s hometown’er. He started 19th and ran in the Top 10 for the majority of the race.

“It was a great night,” Montoya said after Race 10 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend in Miami Nov. 21. “The Target Chevy was amazing. I don’t know, I think we had a Top 5 finish; we ran Top 5 most of the day. The team did an amazing job. We had a great car. To finish where we finished is good for points, and we have to keep it up.”

With the Top 10, Montoya up to 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship point standings—which culminates at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—just 104 points out of 12th place, the cutoff for the Chase.

Montoya will be making his fourth-career start at Darlington this weekend. His best starting position (19th) came in 2008, and his best finish (20th) occurred at last year's race. He has completed an astonishing 1098 of the 1011 (99.7%) laps at Darlington.

Said Montoya: "Let’s be honest, Darlington is a very cool race track, and they repaved it and changed it a lot. It’s always been a really tough place to run, but it’s in the middle of nowhere.

“I don’t think about it: I go there, I get in the car, drive the car, and whether we go to Indy or Daytona or Talladega or Darlington or Richmond, you get in the car, you do the best you can and you go home.”

Montoya will be behind the wheel of the very same No. 42 Target chassis that ran in the 2009 Championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where NASCAR will crown a 2010 Champion during Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 19-21.

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