Jamie McMurray followed teammate Juan Pablo Montoya around and around historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, almost resigned to settling for a second-place finish.
McMurray had already won one big race this year and as a firm believer in fate, he figured Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was Montoya’s chance to celebrate.
Only it didn’t play out that way.
Not even close.
Montoya suffered a heartbreaking defeat for the second consecutive year at Indy, opening the door for McMurray to become the third driver in NASCAR history to win the Brickyard 400 and Daytona 500 in the same year.
“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 win was huge for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, which this time last year was struggling to prove the team was stable and capable of competing for wins. On Sunday, Chip Ganassi became the first team owner to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season. Scott Dixon also got him a victory in the IRL race in Canada.
“When Juan was leading and I was in second, I am a big believer in fate, and I thought this was just the way it is meant to be,” McMurray said. “I won the 500, Dario (Franchitti) won the Indy 500 and Juan is gonna win this race. I really thought it was his day.”
It was pit strategy that sunk Montoya, who started from the pole and led 86 of the 160 laps only to finish 32nd.
A late caution for debris sent the field to pit road with Montoya as the leader, and crew chief Brian Pattie called for a four-tire stop. McMurray crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion went the opposite direction, settling for a two-tire stop in what Ganassi characterized as a “split strategy” that would ensure the organization would benefit from one of the two calls.
“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.”
As six cars, led by McMurray, beat Montoya off pit road, he immediately questioned the decision. The four tires put him in seventh on the restart with 18 laps to go, and he vented over his radio how difficult it was to pass in traffic.
Trying hard to drive back to the front, he lost control of his Chevrolet and crashed hard into the wall before bouncing into Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. Montoya drove his battered car directly to the garage and did not comment as he left the track.
“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.
A year ago, he led 116 laps before a late speeding penalty cost him the win.
Pattie took the blame for Sunday’s failure: “Bad call. Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires.”
“I know he’s mad,” Ganassi said of Montoya. “I’m sure he’s mad. But he’s over it. It’s racing. This is what he does for a living.”
It’s for sure a tough one to swallow, though, particularly with how poorly the year has gone for Montoya. He made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last season, but has been plagued by horrible luck this year and sits a distant 22nd in the current standings.
McMurray joined Jimmie Johnson (2006) and Dale Jarrett (1996) as the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t sure if he’d have a ride this time last year: Roush-Fenway Racing had to let him go to meet NASCAR’s four-car cap, and McMurray wasn’t hired to rejoin his old team until right before the November season finale.
“The guy that’s got to feel like an idiot tonight has to be Jack Roush,” team co-owner Felix Sabates said. “He’s the one that let him go.”
McMurray had to contend with current points leader Kevin Harvick after Montoya’s wreck. Harvick slid past McMurray for the lead right before the caution came out for Montoya, and McMurray had to reclaim on the restart with 11 laps remaining.
Harvick finished second for Richard Childress Racing. Greg Biffle was third in a Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing and was followed by RCR’s Clint Bowyer and two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart. Jeff Burton, the third RCR entry, was sixth. Carl Edwards in a Ford was seventh and was followed by Kyle Busch in the highest-finishing Toyota, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano and Kurt Busch, who in 10th was the highest-finishing Dodge.
Scott Dixon won a controversial Honda Edmonton Indy after driver Helio Castroneves crossed the finish line first, but was penalized for blocking his teammate.
An enraged Castroneves, who ended up 10th, stormed from his car after the race to yell at IndyCar officials and grabbed one by the collar.
Castroneves took the lead from Team Penske teammate Will Power with 18 laps to go in the 95-lap race, but was called for blocking Power when Power tried to pass him on a restart with two laps to go.
With Power blocked by Castroneves, Dixon stormed past him to take second place as the checkered flag came out.
Fernando Alonso passed Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa to win the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Massa’s second-place finish came on the first anniversary of an accident that nearly killed him.
Massa led the race for 49 of 67 laps. Alonso won his second race of the season and Ferrari finished 1-2 for the second time this year.
Sebastian Vettel of Germany was third in his Red Bull.
Robert Hight defeated father-in-law John Force to win the Funny Car classification of the Mile-High Nationals at Morrison, Colo.
Hight (4.215 seconds, 296.05 mph) beat Force (4.386, 284.95) in an all-John Force Racing team final for his fourth win of the season.
The other winners at the 16th race in the 23-race NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).