Junior (13th), Martin (14th) on cusp of Chase contention

Teammates Martin and Earnhardt are both within sight of the coveted 12th spot in the standings

Teammates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are within sight of the coveted 12th spot in the points standings, which would give them a chance at their first Championship. (Courtesy John Harrelson, Getty Images Sport)

For team owner Chip Ganassi, it was a weekend to remember in Indianapolis for Race 20 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). After one of his drivers took the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400—South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya—another, Jamie McMurray, held of Sprint Cup points-leader Kevin Harvick.

“I’m running the last 10 laps of this thing and just praying every lap there isn’t going to be a caution and that my car was going to have the grip I needed,” McMurray said post-race. “It is remarkable to be put in this position. Honestly, I’m in shock right now.”

McMurray, who won the Daytona 500 earlier this year, gave Ganassi his second 2010 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway—the first being an Indy 500 win in May for Dario Franchitti, who won last year’s IndyCar Series crown in Miami and will be battling for the same Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ganassi is the first owner ever to win the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 all in the same year.

With the win at Indy, McMurray jumped two spots in the points standings to 16th in pursuit of qualifying for NASCAR’s Chase playoffs, which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. Lock in tickets to see the 2010 Champion crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend this fall by logging on to THEChampionshipTrack.com or by calling (866) 409-RACE.

With four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson finishing 22nd, he was leap-frogged in the points standings by 2009 Ford 400 winner Denny Hamlin, who takes over third place in the points—behind Jeff Gordon and leader Harvick—despite a 15th-place finish at Indy.

Said Hamlin: “We had a good [car], we could run with pretty much any car out there, but never had a chance really. Every time we were close to the ‘lucky dog’ we just missed it by a lap or two….We made up a lot of spots to finish 15th.”

The real standings battle is for the coveted 12th spot in the standings—the final entry for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup that culminates this fall with Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Lock in your tickets now to see Championship racing at Championship value, as tickets start at just $55: Call (866) 409-RACE or log onto THEChampionshipTrack.com for the best seats.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (13th) and Mark Martin (14th) sit on the cusp of Chase contention, with just six races left before the Chase field is set. Martin used an 11th-place finish at the Brickyard to climb into the 13th position, just 62 points out of the final Chase spot.

Despite getting into a late-race collision with Montoya (see sidebar) and finishing 27th, Earnhardt finds himself just 31 points behind Martin with six races remaining until the Chase field is set, from which a contender will be crowned in Miami.

“The car was really good,” Junior said post-race. “Right in the middle of the race, it got real tight, then we fixed it. I felt like we were pretty good coming up through there. Right at the end, I felt like we had a good car, a good Top 10 car, [but] Montoya got in the fence there, and I ran right in the back of them—nowhere to go.”

Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart finished fifth in Race 20 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). “Smoke” is trying to cement his spot in the Chase field and make his way to his third career race win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a third Championship.

“That feels like a win comparing to where we were yesterday,” Stewart said after having qualified 15th the day prior. “This car has been terrible all weekend, but I am really proud of [crew chief] Darian Grubb and these guys and how hard they worked to make it as good as it was today.”

Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Martin, and four-time Sprint Cup Champions Gordon and Johnson all are looking to vie for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. To see the Champion crowned live, lock in the best seats NOW by calling (866) 409-RACE or logging on to THEChampionshipTrack.com.

Just six races remain for NASCAR’s best to gain points and qualify for Chase contention. Race 21 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21) is Sunday at Pocono (1 p.m. ET on ESPN-TV, MRN Radio).

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On the Move: South Florida's Montoya

Montoya crashed with only a few laps to go in a brickyard that he was leading most of the day

“I don't know what happened to Juan, he obviously had the dominant car again, and it's horrible the luck he's having.”

--Jamie McMurray, on South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya, who again led the most laps today at Indy before crashing

South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya started from the pole in Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway—Race 20 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21. The driver of the No. 42 led a race-high 86 laps before losing control and crashing hard into the wall with just 15 laps remaining to finish 32nd. The performance was eerily similar to last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indy, when Montoya led 116 laps until a late pit road speeding penalty cost him the victory.

In Sunday’s race, Montoya gave up his lead with 23 laps remaining when a debris caution led the field to pit road. In the pits, No. 42 crew-chief Brian Pattie called for four tires, while the first six drivers off pit road opted to take just two. That strategy put Montoya teammate—and eventual winner—Jamie McMurray in the lead, and Montoya sat seventh. In an aggressive effort to make up ground with just 15 laps left to go, Montoya lost control and crashed hard into the wall.

In an ironic twist of fate, Montoya almost predicted his fortune in Saturday’s post-qualifying media session: “Passing here is a lot tougher than normal,” he said after winning the pole. “I think track position is big and, you know, the pit stop selection is big here….But to be realistic, one bad restart or one bad pit stop or anything, it puts you a little bit behind and you've got to find a way to pass people, and you've got to be smart about it.”

Montoya has started all 20 of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup races this season but has fallen victim to an inordinate amount of engine woes and on-track tangling. When he does complete all scheduled laps, the driver of the No. 42 has finished in the Top 10 in all but two of the 2010 races. Included in that run for South Florida’s hometown’er are four Top 5s.

Just six races remain before the Chase “playoff” field is set of the drivers who will contend for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship to be crowned Nov. 21 in Miami on Montoya’s “home track.” His next opportunity to gain points comes Sunday, Aug. 1, at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN-TV, MRN Radio)—Race 21 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21.

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