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Montoya quickly masters NASCAR's road game
The Colombian wins his first Nextel Cup event and becomes the third foreign-born driver to win in the series.
Compiled from Times wires
Published June 25, 2007
SONOMA, Calif. - Juan Pablo Montoya wrote his name into the auto racing history books Sunday, stretching his fuel for a victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
"It's huge, " Montoya said of his first victory in 17 Cup starts. "I would say right now it's the biggest thing I've done. In open wheel, that's what I was meant to be winning in. In stock cars, I wasn't. ... We know we're a little bit behind on some of the ovals, but I think this is a big boost for everybody working in the shop."
Montoya, once known as one of open-wheel racing's most excitable boys, said patience helped him earn his first trip to Victory Lane in a stock car.
"I was third with 20 laps to go, " he said. "I didn't want to finish third but I was trying to save fuel. I was just being very patient on the throttle, and it paid off."
Chip Ganassi, who put Montoya in a stock car after he had won the Indianapolis 500 and seven Formula One races, found himself marveling at the driver with whom he had first worked with in what was then the CART series.
"I was listening to him on the radio and he said, 'It's a little too early to be racing these guys, ' " Ganassi said of Montoya. "I looked at (crew chief) Donnie (Wingo) and he looked at me, and I said, 'Did I hear that right?' "
Montoya, from Colombia, is the first foreign-born driver to win in NASCAR's top series since Canadian Earl Ross at Martinsville on Sept. 29, 1974. It is believed that Montoya, Ross and 1967 Daytona 500 champion Mario Andretti are the only drivers not born in the United States to win in the series.
Also, Montoya joined Andretti and Dan Gurney as the only drivers to win in Formula One, Nextel Cup (or its predecessors) and U.S. open-wheel racing.
Ganassi, for one, is impressed.
"This guy just likes the action, " said the car owner, who got his first Cup victory since 2002. "A week or 10 days ago he was at Eldora (Ohio) Speedway in a dirt car. How many people have been on the Eldora dirt and the streets of Monaco?"
Montoya passed pole-sitter Jamie McMurray, who had been the last Ganassi driver to win, for the lead on Lap 104.
On Lap 77 of 110, Montoya was third behind McMurray and Kevin Harvick. All were in full fuel conservation mode, and on Lap 92 Harvick let Montoya by for second.
"We thought those cars were going to run out of gas, and when it all shook out then we would be in position to win, " said Harvick, who would wind up half right, and in second place.
McMurray, who like Montoya made his final stop under yellow on Lap 69, ran out of gas at the white flag and wound up 37th.
Robby Gordon, who started alongside McMurray, also was a victim of failed strategy after leading a race-high 48 laps. He finished 16th.
Montoya, who qualified 32nd in the 43-car field, was the first driver to win at Sonoma after starting worse than 13th.
Nextel Cup leaders
Through 16 of 36 races. The top 12 through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship:
Driver Pts Back
Jeff Gordon 2538 -
Denny Hamlin 2267 271
Jimmie Johnson 2172 366
Matt Kenseth 2105 433
Jeff Burton 2084 454
Tony Stewart 2058 480
Carl Edwards 2019 519
Kevin Harvick 1964 574
Clint Bowyer 1934 604
Kyle Busch 1905 633
Martin Truex 1863 675
D. Earnhardt Jr. 1815 723
Note: Unofficial standings; NASCAR posts official points today.