Going into this weekend’s running of the Brickyard 400, it appeared as if Juan Pablo Montoya was poised to make history. If victorious, he would become the only driver to win the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500. In addition, a win would have given team owner Chip Ganassi the 2010 motorsports trifecta – the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.
For much of Sunday’s race it appeared as if Montoya was on pace to accomplish that feat. However, the complexion of the entire race changed when a caution for debris brought the field to pit road for the final time. It was Montoya who led the charge to pit road, but thanks to a two-tire call by crew chief Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion, it was Jamie McMurray who led them off.
Holding off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle, McMurray was able to score the win and become only the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year, joining Dale Jarrett in 1996 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. The victory also gave Ganassi the trifecta he had been hoping for.
“I mean honestly when Juan was leading and I was in second, and I am a big believer in fate and I just thought this is the way it’s meant to be,” McMurray said. “I thought well I won the (Daytona) 500 and Dario (Franchitti) won the (Indianapolis) 500 and then Juan is going to win this race. I really thought this was his day but it just shows you that you never give up and you just drive your heart out every lap.”
"I was behind the pit stand," Ganassi said. "Johnny Morris (owner of sponsor Bass Pro Shops) brought up to me, 'Maybe we ought to think about two.' The 42 was going for four. I looked at Bono. I said, 'Do you think we should do the split strategy here?' He said, 'Yeah, let's go for two.' I said, 'Okay.'
“I’ll tell you what, I’m speechless,” Ganassi said. “I’m lucky and privileged to be in this business. I am honored to work with the people I work with. That is all I can tell you. I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. You wouldn’t dare dream this, you wouldn’t dare to dream this kind of year. That is the kind of year it has been.”
Runner-up Kevin Harvick put Ganassi’s accomplishment into perspective, saying:
“I think as race teams and race drivers and owners and sponsors, you come into the year, if you're in the IndyCar Series, you want to win the Indy 500; if you're in the Cup Series, you want to win here and you want to win at Daytona. To win all those in one year is remarkable. It will probably never happen again.”
Clearly the dominant car on the day, Montoya led four times for a total of 86 laps, but in the end recorded his seventh DNF of the year. This is the second year in a row the former Indy 500 champion dominated NASCAR’s turn around the yard of bricks, only to come up short. Last year, a speeding penalty on the final round of pit stops left Montoya with an 11th-place finish, while this year it was a four-tire call by crew chief Brian Pattie that cost the team a shot at the win.
Behind the battle for the lead, Montoya – on four tires – struggled with his car as he found himself racing in traffic for the first time for much of the afternoon.
After losing a number of spots, the No. 42 slid up off the fourth corner and smacked the outside wall. Montoya slid back across the track and was hit by Dale Earnhardt Jr. With a torn up race car and no realistic shot at the win, Montoya simply took his car behind the wall.
While last year’s loss was brought on by driver error, this year it was Pattie that accepted responsibility for the team’s poor finish. "Bad call,” Pattie said. “Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires."
Following the race, Ganassi explained the organization utilized a "split-decision"strategy between the two teams. The No. 42 team opted to take four tires, so McMurray and ‘Bono’ only took two. The plan seemed to work, as McMurray was the first car on two tires and Juan was the first car with four. The No. 1 car was able to stay out front and hold off Harvick and Biffle for the win, while Montoya ended the day in the garage.
For Manion, the decision to take two tires was not only the right call to make given their situation, but also contradicted what he told the team prior to the race.
“There at the end, it was on schedule to go green the whole way and you just knew there was going to be a caution,” Manion said. “It opened that door, opened that opportunity to take two or four. That was probably the right call with two today. I actually said in a team meeting, ‘Four tires will win this race,’ even though we thought we were going to take two in our strategy to get out front.”
With one team kissing the bricks and the other wondering what could have been, Ganassi was asked what he could say to Montoya and the No. 42 guys to help with the disappointment.
"What do I say to Juan (Pablo Montoya) and Brian (Pattie)? They should have taken two," said Ganassi.
While his comments brought laughter to the post-race press conference, Ganassi understands Montoya is a professional and knows how the racing business works.
“He's probably over it already, I'm sure,” Ganassi said. “I mean, I know he's mad. I'm sure he's mad, but he's over it. It's racing. This is what he does for a living.”
OTHER BRICKYARD NOTES:
- One of the favorites entering the day, Jimmie Johnson’s run at three straight Brickyard 400 victories did not go according to plan. Starting on the outside pole, Johnson was never a major factor in the race and led only one lap. Going for the win, it seemed the No. 48 team missed the setup on the car and struggled for much of the afternoon. At various points throughout the race, Johnson was in danger of going a lap down on the track and fought to simply keep the car under him. When the checkered flag fell, Johnson wound up 22nd.
“We had real high expectations for the day,” Johnson said. “We just had a really bad under-steer problem on corner entry and to the center that we couldn't get out of it. We made some attempts during caution flags and made some big changes on pit road but nothing really woke the car up. So we'll have to dig in and find out what happened.”
- Johnson was not the only Hendrick Motorsports team to struggle Sunday in Indianapolis. While Mark Martin was a contender for much of the afternoon, the same two-tire call that won McMurray the race cost Martin a top-10 finish. Fading on older tires, Martin came home 11th – the highest finished Hendrick car. Jeff Gordon also struggled with the handling of the car throughout the race, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was caught up in Montoya’s wreck. A year after taking three of the top-10 spots (including first and second), no Hendrick car finished in the top-10 – the first time this has happened in the 17 years NASCAR has been racing at Indianapolis.
- Despite being involved in a Lap 1 wreck, Kyle Busch was able to rebound nicely and come home with an 8th-place finish.
“I don’t know what happened there on the opening lap,” Busch said. “I just lost it, I guess. It just went around. I had trouble every restart really trying to get going, especially through (turns) one and two. I had trouble getting going on restarts. All in all, we came back and bounced back solidly, so that was good. We needed a good run -- it’s been a while.”
- Perhaps the highlight of the post-race winner press conference came when Felix Sebates was discussing his relationship with Chip Ganassi and how the team has been able to find success. Addressing the issue of bringing McMurray back to the organization, Sebates said:
“The guy that got to feel like an idiot tonight has to be Jack Roush. He's the one that let him go.”
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