Both finish outside top 20 after on-track altercations
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The fireworks that filled the night-time sky following the end of the Ford 400 weren’t the only ones to go off Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The others blasted off much earlier during the 267-lap race at the 1.5-mile track, when drivers Juan Montoya and Tony Stewart bumped and banged and wrecked each other on two different occasions, providing the most entertaining moments of Jimmie Johnson’s championship-clinching run.
Those fireworks started on Lap 116 when it appeared Montoya, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet, bumped Stewart’s No. 14 Chevy from behind. Stewart almost immediately seemed to retaliate by turning down into Montoya’s car, causing the right-front tire of the No. 42 to go flat, sending it into the wall (watch video).
That tore up the right side of Montoya’s machine and sent him to the garage to get it fixed. When he returned 30 laps later, it seemed he quickly set his sights on getting even with Stewart.
Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson, even told the No. 48 team’s spotter, Earl Barban, to find out where Montoya and Johnson were on the track and instructed Johnson to give the frisky pair a wide berth as soon as Montoya emerged from the garage and got back into the fray.
«Earl, keep an eye on the 42 and the 14. The 42 is back on the race track and the 14 is unfortunately ahead of us,» Knaus told Barban.
Brian Pattie, Montoya’s crew chief, later admitted: «If we had been going for a championship and I saw all that stuff happening, I would have told my driver the same thing.»
On Lap 155, Pattie’s driver booted Stewart from behind, sending the No. 14, which had been in contention for a strong finish and possibly even the win, spinning off into oblivion. Although Stewart wasn’t penalized for the first portion of the incident, Montoya was black-flagged by NASCAR and parked for two laps (watch video).
The scuffles ruined the nights of both drivers. Montoya ended up finishing 38th and dropped two spots to eighth in the final Chase standings. Stewart, who lost one lap and fell to 33rd after getting spun and having to pit under green, eventually did gain his lap and several positions back, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish that dropped him to sixth in the final standings.
As irony would have it, the two entered the race fifth and sixth in points, respectively — meaning their haulers were parked right next to each other all weekend in the garage. But there were no additional post-race fireworks from either driver — at least not that the public could see or hear.
Montoya drove in after the race first and quickly stormed off after climbing from his car. Stewart came in next and lingered only a little before disappearing into his hauler. He sent word through a spokesman about 10 minutes later that he would not be discussing the incidents with reporters.
That left the crew chiefs to try to explain what happened. Unfortunately, they more or less said they didn’t have a clue.
«I haven’t seen all the replays, so I don’t know what exactly happened when,» said Darian Grubb, crew chief for Stewart. «But they were racing each other hard, and they both got frustrated.»
Pattie smiled and added: «I asked the crew chief on the 14 what happened, and he said he didn’t know, either. So we’ll just have to go back and look at the tape like we always do, and try to see what happened. All I saw was the right side [of the 42] went flat, he got into the wall, and we were headed to the garage.
«We’ll figure it out. We definitely don’t need this stuff heading into next year.»
The two crew chiefs did end up speaking with each other afterward. Eventually, they shrugged shoulders and had a laugh about it after agreeing that any lingering bad feelings between the drivers needs to be flushed from all systems before the 2010 season opens with the Daytona 500 next February.
«It didn’t help us; it didn’t help him,» Pattie said. «We fell a couple of spots in the points; he ended up out of the top five, when both of us had a fighting chance to finish there. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I mean, Tony is a friend of mine so we’ll see what happens.»
Both crew chiefs also agreed that the two cars were fast before the fireworks exploded in their collective faces.
«We were going to go out on a high note,» Grubb said. «We wanted to win this race and we had the car to do it. We led some laps. We fell back a couple of times because of pit sequences or whatever, and we were always able to drive right back up to the front.
«We were really hopeful. Then the sun went down, the track got a little cooler, and our car started getting off a little bit while others started picking it up a bit. We just got the best we could out of it at that point.»
Well, it didn’t help getting turned by Montoya. Then again, Pattie said he thought his camp had a top-five car as well before the beating and banging with Stewart commenced.
«We’re still building. We’re still a new team, when you think about it. It’s only my first full-time year in the Cup Series,» said Pattie, who was on the pit box for 19 poles and 18 wins in the Nationwide Series before moving to Cup late last season. «If I knew it was going to be like this all the time, I should have switched a long time ago.
«[Juan] buys into the system. We’ve changed some stuff and started clicking this season, but I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. We do a lot of things and we’re pretty meticulous about what we do, so we can perform the second time around [at tracks] even better [than the first]. I think we proved that in the second half of this season, and we’ll try to carry that over to all of the tracks next season. I want to take what we had the last 15, 18 races and build on it. This was a brand-new race car that easily had another top-five [finish] in it.»
Pattie said the only thing he said to Montoya while the car was in the garage getting fixed was to remind him to keep it at the minimum speed. But he also later admitted that he was not all that surprised when his driver tangled a second time with Stewart.
«That’s not a very good recipe, to be honest with you,» Pattie said. «We’ll watch the tape and see that it doesn’t happen again.»
Pattie added that he was not too upset with Montoya.
«It shows you that he wants to be here, and that he’s not going to be pushed around,» Pattie said. «He’s fiery, and he’s going to stay that way. It’s in there; it’s in him. We just calmed him down to get him points racing [earlier this season]. He didn’t start it [with Stewart], I don’t think. He just finished it.»
Grubb added: «It’s just racers racin’ hard. A lot of common sense goes out the window when you’re racing as hard as you can. We weren’t thinking about points, we were thinking about winning the race — and we thought Juan was racing a little too hard right there. That happens. Juan’s a great race-car driver and so is Tony. Both of their common senses went out the window altogether there.»