ON THE WAY TO WINNING WE WAS ROBBED
If you listened to Scott Pruett's expressed disappointment in the wake of him - and Greg Biffle and Boris Said and Carl Edwards and, well, just about anyone who got caught between Juan Pablo Montoya and the checkered flag -- you learned JPM was assuredly and dastardly inclined to move Pruett out of the way.
Well, looked to me like JPM's No. 42 Havoline/Telcel punted Pruett's No. 41 Juicy Fruit Dodge fair and square.
Concern over whether he should've done it- at least at the time he did it, if not at all - was clearly expressed by JPM crew chief Brad Parrot (some with whom I talked in the wake of his SPEED on-air interview didn't know if Parrot was crying because he was happy or upset 'cause he knew the 41's crew so well. I went with the former).
Watching the race one couldn't conclude anything but that Montoya had a stout car. A stout car placed in the hands of an accomplished driver usually equals excellent result. But Pruett had one, too.
Mexico City defending champ Denny Hamlin had a front-row seat for the show and though he believed Montoya was "overzealous" and "a bit aggressive," added his belief that JPM "had the fastest car and would've taken the lead sooner or later."
Hamlin certainly is a far better judge of a racing machine's strength than other folks I know but also knows that cars can be good or bad one moment then flip the next. Who's to say Pruett's car, which at a couple of points in the race was flat-out hauling tail, wasn't at that moment trying to conserve tires or that Pruett was keeping JPM behind him for the heck of it, sure that nothing "stupid" was likely to happen between the two.
Maybe he was just having fun.
When you came down to it, it looked a lot like what a Busch Series cousin does every time it races. Something Pruett knows well.
In the Rolex Sports Car Series' second race of the 2004 season -- at the end of which Pruett and Max Papis would win the Daytona Prototype driving championship -- their No. 01 Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates CompUSA Lexus-Riley was battling literally door-handle to door-handle with the No. 27 Doran Lista Lexus-Doran of former Formula One driver Didier Theys. It wasn't a bump here or a touch there, these two were banging some serious sheet . . ., er, carbon fiber from the road course's second turn to half-way through the front stretch.
With the checkered flag just a couple more laps away around Homestead-Miami Speedway's road course, the two totally removed themselves from a one-two finish, leaving the door wide open for a well-trailing Andy Wallace and Milka "Mujer Fabulosa" Duno to win in their No. 2 CITGO Pontiac-Crawford.
Pruett wasn't a happy camper because Papis' demeanor allowed only two choices: win or break.
Pruett didn't jump up and down, yell, cry or rant. But he was angered; acted much the same way as he did in Mexico and used some of the very same words about teammate Papis as he did about teammate JPM.
Drivers don't have to work hard at not braking and over the years more than a few admitted to using the car ahead of them as a pivot of sorts, allowing the overtaking car to kill a few stones with one rock while advancing: shove it out of the way; take the position; and, if you're lucky, entirely take out the other car, usurping a future charge.
Standing at the rear of JPM's hauler after the race, Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates upper-management types looked to be confused.
On the one hand, they like JPM. On the other hand, they like Scott Pruett. Not just for the championship racing title production from each, but as much due to the two being genuinely liked, respected members of the organization.
Beyond that, each has a skill set the CGRFS organization will use to the fullest possible extent. Skills directed at winning in an organization that has had a lot of motorsport success over the years but which has been mired in NASCAR mediocrity -- if one counts only the wins an organization scores. Even team manager Tony Glover -- whose NASCAR record is of considerable accomplishment -- recently admitted to at least a little self-doubt the last couple of years. And who in heck wouldn't have some?
Now, with JPM, the team is heading very close to busting out of the tunnel -- if they haven't already.
Pruett's been doing his part to help the team get there. He's obviously one of the best at his job anywhere.
JPM was hungry for a NASCAR win; Pruett hungry, too.
It truly beats the heck out of me -- just as it did the guys standing behind the hauler and, I'll bet, most everyone in CGRFS: you're glad you won but sad that you've lost.
It just goes to show you how strange life can be at times.
-- By DC Williams exclusively for Motorsport.com