Montoya Wins IRL Spins

Let's see if I have this straight: Juan Montoya, the 1999 CART champion -- who hasn't even won a race in 2000 -- shows up at the Indianapolis 500 at a strange track, in a strange car, and qualifies second. Then he doesn't even bother to show up at the Sunday prior to the event for practice.

Then he shows up Sunday and absolutely dominates.

And the best the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series has, 1999 champ Greg Ray, hangs it out for four hairy laps and qualifies on the pole. Then he shows up Sunday and leads for a while, then, unassisted, crashes. The wind blew him into the wall, Ray says, unconvincingly.

Then his crew fixes his car, and he goes back out and then, unassisted, runs into the wall again. Of 33 cars, the current IRL champ finishes 33rd.

It's difficult to imagine how the Indy Racing League honchos can spin this one in their favor. Montoya drove the race with such ease and confidence that at one point it looked like he was adjusting his in-cockpit compact disc player, and it seems likely teammate and ex-CART champ Jimmy Vasser, running a strong second until he had to pit late for fuel -- victim of a wonky pit stop call by Chip Ganassi, who was using Vasser as "a guinea pig," as announcer Tom Sneva correctly observed -- would have stayed in second, thus giving Ganassi a sweep.

It all boils down to this: You wanna see the 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion at his next race?

Then don't go to the next IRL event in Texas June 10. He won't be there.

He'll be at the next CART race, the Miller Lite 225, in Milwaukee on June 4.

Of course, this isn't unprecedented. Past -- long past -- winners like Graham Hill and Jimmy Clark might not necessarily show up at the next local open-wheel race, but the current marketing value of the Indy 500 is, for the IRL, to sell the rest of the schedule.

Had Robby Gordon won, granted he wouldn't be in the next IRL race, but he would not be at a CART race, in the camp of your sworn enemy. The split between CART and the IRL has seldom looked so one-sided.

Compounding it all was the fact that ABC's dreadful, commercial-jammed coverage may have been the worst effort since Indy went live on TV, but there wasn't much drama anyway. Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher took each other out in a crash -- leaving the race without its two "gals," as Sneva kept referring to the two women. Al Unser Jr. was out early, and some good drivers like Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were down a lap confoundingly early. Only a late but ultimately ineffective charge by Buddy Lazier kept even the slightest level of interest late.

This, despite announcers Bob Jenkins and Arie Luyendyk telling us repeatedly that this was, after all, the world's most important race, and that everything Montoya has done, and will ever do, pales in comparison to this victory.

Maybe. But it sure didn't look, or feel, very important, and the joy from Montoya and Ganassi seemed to come as much from finally winning a race this year as the weight of the race they one.

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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