Indianapolis Motor Speedway has broken many hearts in its 101 year history perhaps none more than that of Juan Pablo Montoya recently. After losing the race late last year, Montoya came into Sunday’s Brickyard 400 looking for revenge. It seemed like he would finally get the victory he was looking for until a gaffe on pit road led back to a finish out of the top spot.
Montoya won the pole position, and led for 86 of the 160 laps Sunday, but fell all the way down the grid to finish 32nd. A caution with Montoya in the lead brought the drivers to pit lane.
Crew chief Brian Pattie called for all new tires, a move that proved costly. The No. 42 complained that it was hard to pass in traffic after taking the time to change all four tires. Online sportsbooks took notice of Montoya’s position on the pole, but bettors lost if they chose him to win.
Six cars led by Jamie McMurray beat Montoya off pit road. McMurray’s crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion elected to take only two tires, and the move paid off. Mcmurry said afterword that he expected Montoya to win the race after leading late.
“I really believe that this was Juan’s weekend,” a sympathetic McMurray said. “I’m looking with 15 or 20 laps to go and Juan is leading — not that I was content — but, if this is the way it’s supposed to be, then that’s just the way it is.”
The strategic move was an example of “split strategy” racing by the Chip Ganassi team. By choosing to send two tires to one car and four to another, Ganassi ensured the team would benefit from at least one.
“The only reason we could do that is because we knew [Montoya] was going for four,” Ganassi said. “As a team, we had sort of both strategies covered there, I guess.”
After dropping to the back of the pack, Montoya swerved frantically to regain the lead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the victim of Montoya’s erratic line, and was sideswiped by the Target Chevrolet after Colombian racer sent his car into the wall.
Earnhardt Jr. did not comment after leaving the track, but later posted congratulations on his Twitter page.
“We had a rough day. Great car and great team effort. Nice to see the 1 car win. I know it means a lot for Chip,” he later posted on his Twitter page.
Pattie took all the blame for the loss in a press conference after the race. Even the best online sportsbooks couldn’t have foreseen the pit road gaffe by Montoya’s crew.
“Bad call. Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires,” lamented Pattie.
Ganassi also offered sympathy, but said it was important for Montoya to move on.
“I know he’s mad,” Ganassi said. “I’m sure he’s mad. But he’s over it. It’s racing. This is what he does for a living.”
NASCAR sportsbooks have set McMurray as the underdog to win the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship at +4500 odds.