Montoya Gets First Nextel Cup Victory

Sunday, June 24th 2007, 8:32 pm
By: News On 6

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) _ Juan Pablo Montoya demonstrated his road racing prowess again Sunday, stretching his final fuel load to the limit and grabbing his first NASCAR Nextel Cup win at Infineon Raceway.

Montoya, who qualified a disappointing 32nd in the 43-car field, was the first driver to win on the Northern California road circuit starting further back than 13th.

The Colombian driver, who jumped from Formula One to the American stock car circuit late last season, got his first Cup win in his 17th start and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his first win in NASCAR's top series since Jamie McMurray won in October 2002.

Montoya, whose only other NASCAR victory came earlier this year in a Busch Series race on the road course in Mexico City, passed McMurray, who now drives for Roush Fenway Racing, eight laps from the end and stayed out front of the 110-lap event on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn course.

The winner got past McMurray for a moment two laps earlier, driving his Dodge past McMurray's Ford in the slow hairpin near the end of the circuit, but Montoya got too wide and McMurray was able to squeeze back by.

The pass that counted came in turn two, with Montoya getting under McMurray's car and passing easily.

``I saw he was always hugging that corner and I thought, 'This is it.' I knew I could pass him there,'' Montoya said.

Donnie Wingo, his crew chief, said it was mostly Montoya's ability to conserve fuel that won the race. Wingo figured Montoya would run out about a lap short of the end.

``Today, we had to play a little bit of catchup, so we had to take a gamble there at the end,'' Wingo said. ``He did a great job on saving fuel, everybody did a good job on the stops and the motor shop did a great job. Without the fuel mileage we'd have never made it.''

McMurray ran out of gas at the start of lap 109 and wound up finishing 37th.

Kevin Harvick inherited second place and finished there, followed by his Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, who all got great fuel mileage.

Harvick, who appeared to be getting the best mileage of them all, thought he might have the race won when McMurray slowed and Montoya was short shifting to save gas late in the race.

``They came on the radio and told me you've got 20 laps to make up one lap of fuel and the two cars in front of you are both three laps short,'' Harvick said. ``That's how we played it and (Montoya) didn't run out of gas.''

Harvick said he wasn't surprised that it was Montoya who he was chasing at the end.

``I've been a big fan of Montoya's since he came over,'' Harvick said. ``He's a great road racer, but he wasn't the fastest. The strategy won it for him today.''

Series points leader Jeff Gordon overcame a 41st-place start to finish just behind Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart in seventh with a strategic effort in the first road race for NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow.

Gordon, who became a father for the first time on Wednesday when his daughter, Ella Sofia, was born, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, the reigning Cup champion, were both banned from practice and qualifying on Friday and had to start from the rear of the field after NASCAR inspectors found their cars had illegally modified front fenders.

Both drivers and their crew chiefs face more penalties from NASCAR in the next few days, but they ran hard to overcome their handicapped start on Sunday. Johnson's fuel strategy didn't work as well as Gordon's and, after getting into the top 10 for a while, he finished 17th.

Robby Gordon, who started alongside pole-winner McMurray, also was a victim of failed strategy after leading a race-high 48 laps. He finished 16th.