On Sunday, Juan Pablo Montoya was seemingly cruising to victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. He easily had the strongest car all day, and would frequently open up three-, four-, and five-second leads. Then, on lap 125 of 160 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Montoya’s incredible day took a turn for the worst.
Montoya came down pit road for a scheduled, green-flag pit stop. After leaving pit road on what appeared to be a good, clean stop, his crew chief came over the radio and informed him that NASCAR said he would need to return to the pits because he was caught speeding in two segments of pit road.
Montoya insisted that he did not speed, and pleaded that NASCAR take another look. Shortly thereafter, Montoya came to pit road to serve his penalty. When the caution came out after Dale Earnhardt Jr blew his motor, Montoya again explained to his crew chief, Brian Pattie, that he did not speed, and that NASCAR had given him the shaft.
After the race, Montoya said:
I thought I was on the speed. We got lights (on the dashboard to warn the driver of his speed). I was on the lights every time. I was where I was on the previous one and they say I was speeding. We had a deal like that before and once it happens, you can’t change it so it is pretty frustrating.
But, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby was holding proof that Montoya sped in his hand after the race. According to the printout, Montoya exceeded the 55-mph speed limit by running 60.06 mph through the second speeding zone and 60.11mph through the fourth zone.
Sprint Cup cars do not have speedometers. Instead they use RPMs to calculate their speed. During the pace laps of the race, they set their pit road speed based on the pace car. So it is possible that the calibration of the light Montoya referred to was off.
Pattie took a more diplomatic approach than Montoya:
It’s electronic. It’s not like there is a lot to discuss. It’s not like the old days where everybody is doing handheld (stopwatches). It’s black and white. It is what it is. They did their job. Now we go back and do ours.
And, he’s right.
I’m sure that many fans out there, like Montoya, think that he was shafted because NASCAR wanted a bigger name to win; or, for some, because NASCAR didn’t want a non-White or non-American to win the race.
And, while I understand that sentiment, I don’t believe it is the case. Sure, NASCAR’s southern, White roots make it susceptible to racism claims. Some of those claims are accurate, but I believe this one is not.
If you really consider it, NASCAR actually had more incentive for Montoya to win, than they did Jimmie Johnson.
Montoya’s victory would have been better for NASCAR because Montoya’s success in the sport could attract more Hispanic or Latino fans, a market NASCAR would love to break into. A Montoya victory would also have returned the Earnhardt name to victory lane, which is always a good thing considering how much weight that name still carries. When Kasey Kahne won at Infineon Raceway, the Petty name returned to victory lane, and all the media outlets pointed that out. That’s good publicity for NASCAR. Do you think NASCAR isn’t starving for some good publicity after this whole Jeremy Mayfield court case? I think they are.
A Johnson win doesn’t do NASCAR much good because fans think, same old, same old. When Kyle Busch was winning so many races last year, some fans got bored and tuned out. And, in today’s economy, I don’t think NASCAR can afford to have fans tune out.
That’s not to say NASCAR is going out of its way to rig the results. NASCAR doesn’t have incentive to get its three-time champion to victory lane because, like in any sport, no one wants to see the same people win over and over again. It gets boring, quickly.
I don’t blame Montoya for reacting the way he did. He has been running consistently better this year, but he has not been a factor to win races until Sunday. He’s never had the car to beat before, so he knew that he needed to capitalize, but he didn’t.
It’s a hard pill to swallow. To be 0.06 or 0.11 mph over the speed limit is crazy. It’s not something you feel in the car. It may not be something that even registers on the light system drivers use to let them know they’re under the pit road speed limit. But, it is something that will show up on NASCAR’s system. And drivers should know this.
I don’t think NASCAR discriminates. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and other big names have been hit with speed penalties before, and they will again. And, in some of those cases, they have been taken out of contention to win. It’s the nature of the sport. And, Montoya knows this, even if he didn’t want to swallow it at the time.
In the end, Montoya has no one to blame but himself. NASCAR gives a 4.99 mph buffer. If you have a five-second lead, why would you even come close to that? Montoya asked that question himself. But, the computer showed he did. So, he needs to ask himself that question.
I hate to say it, but some drivers who are not used to running up front make mistakes when the pressure is on. And, in this case, I believe that’s exactly what Juan Pablo Montoya did.