Montoya Claims First Victory
June 24, 2007 | 8:09 P.M. EST
But few could have expected him to win.
However Montoya is now a NEXTEL Cup Series winner after stretching his fuel mileage to help him score his first career victory Sunday afternoon, winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
Montoya became only the third foreign-born driver to win in NASCAR's top division, joining Canadian Earl Ross, who won at Martinsville in 1974, and Mario Andretti, who won the Daytona 500 in 1967.
He also joins Andretti as the only two drivers in history to win in Formula One, NEXTEL Cup as well as the Indianapolis 500.
Montoya worked around Jamie McMurray on lap 104, after the two put on a torrid battle for the top spot for several laps.
"I saw he was always hugging that corner and I thought, 'This is it.' I knew I could pass him there," Montoya said.
McMurray was also nursing a short fuel supply and when he finally ran out of gas a couple laps from the finish, it was Montoya's turn to save as much fuel as possible in the closing laps.
He was able to do that and hold off Kevin Harvick to score the historic victory in only his 17th career start.
"I knew it was going to be close, I was saving as much as I could," Montoya said. "We did a good job. It’s huge."
Montoya's crew chief Donnie Wingo credited his driver with being able to conserve fuel.
"Today, we had to play a little bit of catchup so we had to take a gamble there at the end," Wingo said. "He saved enough fuel to make it, because we had it figured to be like a lap short. 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."
The win was the first for team owner Chip Ganassi since McMurray won for the team at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October of 2002.
"It’s as big as any victory I’ve had," Montoya said. "People ask me about winning Indy, but when I won at Long Beach (in 1999 in CART) that was my first ever big race. This is my first big race in stock cars.
"It’s hard to say this one is better than that or that one. But open wheel what I was meant to be winning in, stock cars are not. To get a win in my first year is huge."
Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer gave Richard Childress Racing positions two through four with Greg Biffle rounding out the top five.
"We had a really good car," Biffle said. "Fuel mileage just became such a factor on that last run, actually the whole day. It’s pretty different when the crew chief, who is in the lounge before the race says, ‘You’ve got to save fuel all day. We’re gonna try to do it on two stops.’ So all day long I was thinking about it and saving fuel and on that last run there I probably never gave it more than half-throttle the last seven laps."
Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon - who started 41st after failing to pass inspection before Friday's practice and qualifying sessions, Kyle Busch, Boris Said and Denny Hamlin completed the firsty ten finishers.
Robby Gordon led much of Sunday's race but got caught in the fuel strategy game.
"It’s just disappointing that fuel strategy makes a difference of a race win or not," Gordon said, who wound up finishing 16th. "We’ve got to dot our I’s and cross our T’s and do a little more research and figure out why we’re not getting the fuel mileage."
The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to New Hampshire International Speedway for next Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 300.