Frustration and tough breaks have plagued the No. 42 team of Juan Pablo Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie over the last few weeks, but Sunday on the road course in Watkins Glen the pair was able to dominate the day and seal the deal to score the win.
Going into this weekend’s event, the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team had three front row starts in the previous five races, yet they failed to finish better than 16th and recorded three DNFs. With most people in the garage looking at Montoya as the guy to beat this weekend, the No. 42 qualified third and before long was out front leading the race.
Montoya took the lead from teammate Jamie McMurray on Lap 6 and refused to give it up for most of the event. Leading four times for a total of 74 laps, Montoya was able to put weeks of frustration and disappointment behind him and instead took home the trophy for the second time in his Sprint Cup Series career. The win was also crew chief Brian Pattie’s first Cup win.
“We lost a lot of them and gave away a lot of them,” Montoya said. “It gets frustrating and everybody gets fighting and everything, but this Target team does an amazing job.”
Over the last two weeks, Montoya and Pattie have disagreed and had some heated exchanges over the radio, including an incident where Montoya said “screw you” after Pattie criticized Montoya’s pit stop. After a sit down with team owner Chip Ganassi on Saturday, the pair mended their relationship and proved it on the race track.
“We have a great relationship,” Montoya said of his crew chief. “We really understand each other. It’s difficult because we’re very competitive and we both want to win. Yesterday we had a really good talk with Chip and all the boys. Now this -- it’s awesome.”
“When you're passionate about winning races at this level, the closer we got, the worse it got for frustration level,” Pattie said. “We've led a lot of laps, led a lot of races this year. So we're there week in and week out. That's what we try to do from 2008 on, build our organization and a team that can consistently run at this level.”
While Montoya was able to take the checkered flag with a nearly five second cushion over second, Marcos Ambrose gave the Colombian-native a run for his money throughout much of the 90-lap event. Starting in 11th, Ambrose charged to the front early and before long was challenging Montoya for the top spot.
In one of the best battles at Watkins Glen in years, Ambrose stalked the No. 42 through each right and left turn on the circuit, eventually making the move for the lead on Lap 41.
Restarting with the lead on Lap 45, Ambrose wheel-hoped the No. 47 Toyota into the first corner and allowed Montoya to reclaim the lead. From then, the No. 42 was never seriously challenged for the win.
With Montoya driving away in the closing laps, Ambrose eventually succumbed to a deflating left rear tire and was passed by Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch. Looking to make up for his self-inflicted loss earlier this year at Sonoma, Ambrose was forced to swallow a disappointing third-place finish.
“I got to tell you doesn't feel nice finishing third,” Ambrose said. “I want to win so bad in the Cup Series, this was a really good chance for me. We had a good racecar. Something went wrong in the last pit stop. We lost the handle on the racecar, maybe a different set of tires, slightly different spring rate in the tires. We lost the handle on it.”
A top-three car for most of Sunday’s race, Busch was able to score his best career finish on a road course. While he would have like to earn the 10 bonus points for winning the race, Busch understood he had nothing for Montoya in the closing laps.
“To come up shy of those 10 points, can't be too upset because Montoya really had us beat today,” Busch said. “Overall, just for us to finally put a nice exclamation point on a road course race without having anything go wrong, not running out of fuel, not having a flat tire, not getting run over by a Hendrick car feels pretty good.”
Fresh off his announcement of signing a multiyear agreement to remain at Richard Petty Motorsports, AJ Allmendinger brought the famous No. 43 home in the fourth spot. His first top-5 of the season, Allmendinger ran up front throughout the entire event, even challenging for the lead at one point in the race.
“We didn’t have anything for the 42, he was on another planet,” Allmendinger said. “It felt like if we got around the 2 on the restart and the 47 was fading at the end, I am not sure what was happening there, I felt like maybe we had something for them. It was a solid day. It was a good day in the pits. We need to build on this. It is really cool to sign a multi-year deal and have a great weekend.”
The race to make this year’s Chase opened up Sunday when Clint Bowyer was forced to the garage midway through the event with a broken truck arm mount. Coming into the weekend 12th in the standings, Bowyer’s problems tightened the race for the Chase.
With the No. 33 behind the wall, Mark Martin – who was 13th in points entering the day – stayed out during green flag pit stops to lead a lap. That allowed the veteran driver to leapfrog Bowyer and leave Watkins Glen 12th in points with a 10 point cushion.
“We’ve got to pick it up,” Martin admitted after finishing 19th. “We’ve got to keep getting better. We got better at Chicago, Indy and Pocono. Now we need to get better yet at Michigan. If we can do that, keep gaining momentum in these last four then we’ve got a shot at it. But if we trip and stumble anywhere, it will be curtains.”
Bowyer’s struggles also rekindled the Chase chances for Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and possibly even Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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