VICTORY ELUDES MONTOYA AT DOVER
NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart gets a big hug from fellow Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick after Stewart's outside pass on Montoya with three laps left was enough to win at Dover and snap a 30-race winless streak (photo courtesy: Geoff Burke, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart, who had gotten off to a rough start to the 2013 season, spoiled an upset bid by South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya to win at Dover.
Stewart had just two top-10 finishes in the first 14 races and had fallen to 20th in points. Both hard charging veterans took advantage of a late-race penalty to Jimmie Johnson, who dominated the race but was black-flagged after jumping the final restart.
Montoya beat Johnson out of the pits during the final caution period and held the lead for the final restart but Johnson jumped the restart to take the lead and was black-flagged. He had to serve a pass-through penalty, handing the lead to Montoya with 14 laps remaining. But Stewart caught Montoya and finally passed him for the lead with just three laps to go.
"I don't know if his car broke or he was off power or what, I don't know, so I was running half-throttle down the frontstretch and he never come, so at that point we got going,” Johnson said. “It's a bummer way to lose a race. We certainly had the winning car."
Montoya was trying to win his third career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and his first on an oval track. He had not won since winning at Watkins Glen in 2010. He looked to be on his way to his first oval-track win until Stewart was able to chase him down.
"He was so quick; I don't understand where he came from. He wasn't that good all day," Montoya said of Stewart. "He was good when it mattered. Our car on the last run was a little tight ... it never really had speed. … I think our left sides were too old."
Stewart, who like Montoya is a former open-wheel champion, was proud to beat the former Formula One star in the final laps.
"It's not too many times that you get to outrun Juan Montoya," Stewart said. "He figured out where I was gaining ground and made the adjustment and I had to move around again and found a little something up top."
Montoya, who now has top-10 finishes in three of his last five races, is optimistic about his team's progress. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray also was running in the top 10 before going to the garage with a broken radiator. Though disappointed at not winning, Montoya is happy to be a contender on any given race day.
"I think that win is coming," Montoya said. "It's good to be running this good every week."
Johnson maintained the points lead by 30 over Carl Edwards. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
For Montoya, it was just the third time he led laps and his second top-five of the season. He gained one position in the standings, to 22nd.
“We got two top fives in about a month, near misses, wins and I think they are coming," he said. "I've said this before: You have got to start running (and earning) top fives, top 10s, to be able to get wins, to give yourself a shot.”
Stewart gave himself the opportunity for a wild-card position in the Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup after vaulting into the top 20 in points and scoring a win. The wild cards go to drivers between 10th and 20th in the standings with the most wins. Neither Jeff Gordon nor Aric Almirola, who are currently 11th and 12th in the standings, has a win to their credit. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
"I've done this enough and been in the Chase enough that being in the Chase is not a novelty for me," Stewart said. "I don't care about being in the Chase unless I have an opportunity to win the championship. To me, it's bigger -- it's a bigger deal to me to get our program turned around to where if we have the opportunity to get in the Chase that we have -- our goal is not just to make the Chase. Our goal is to be championship contenders.”
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Pocono on Sunday, June 9 (1:00 p.m. EDT, TNT, MRN Radio and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90).