INDIANAPOLIS | Jimmie Johnson grabbed an improbable third victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a speeding penalty to Juan Pablo Montoya blew Sunday’s race wide open.
Montoya led 116 laps and had a 5-second lead when he headed to pit road for a routine stop with 35 laps remaining. NASCAR flagged him for speeding on his way in, and the penalty knocked him out of contention.
“I swear on my children and my wife that I was not speeding!” he shouted over his radio. “There is no way! Thank you NASCAR for screwing my day.”
Crew chief Brian Pattie begged his driver to calm down and focus on salvaging a solid points day - to no avail.
“Don’t tell me to relax, dude!” Montoya yelled. “We had this in the bag.”
Indeed he did, but the 2000 winner of the Indianapolis 500 was relegated to 11th place. Montoya, who had moved as high as sixth in the Sprint Cup standings as he ran out front, instead lost a spot and is now 10th.
The performance was reminiscent of Montoya’s win in the Indy 500, when he led 167 of 200 laps in his first race at the storied track. His team celebrated his return Sunday with a retro paint scheme that duplicated that winning car, and as he clicked off lap after lap, it was deja vu for the Colombian.
“Actually reminded me of last time I led here to be honest,” a calm Montoya said after the race. “I was super fast.”
Too fast, actually. NASCAR said the electronic timing system caught Montoya twice exceeding the limit as he drove down pit road.
“There’s nothing to prove wrong,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition. “It’s about as simple math as you can use.”
The penalty opened up the race. Mark Martin restarted as the leader with 24 laps to go and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson lined up on his outside. Johnson sailed to the front and pulled away, only to have to hold off Martin over a nerve-racking final five laps.
Johnson, winner of three of the past four races at The Brickyard, became the first driver to win in consecutive years in 16 NASCAR races at Indy. It was the third win this season for the three-time defending NASCAR champion.
Martin, who at 50 became the oldest polesitter in Indy’s 100 years, finished second and moved up two spots in the standings to ninth.
“I would have liked to win it,” Martin said. “Just got beat by Superman.”
Current points leader Tony Stewart, a two-time Brickyard winner, was third and could commiserate with Montoya’s heartbreak.
“He never really was challenged all day,” Stewart said. “He did a great job. I know what he’s feeling like - he’s got to be sick inside. He had the car, he had the talent to do it; he just made a mistake and it cost him.”
Greg Biffle was third and followed by Brian Vickers and Kevin Harvick, who posted his best finish in 15 races.