Montoya Wins Stellar Sonoma Race, Dale Jr. 13th Bud Team Wicked Fast, Falls Short on Fuel Strategy Juan Pablo Montoya, considered one of the best road racers in the world, backed-up that reputation today with a victory in the Save-Mart 350 ...
Montoya Wins Stellar Sonoma Race, Dale Jr. 13th
Bud Team Wicked Fast, Falls Short on Fuel Strategy
Juan Pablo Montoya, considered one of the best road racers in the world, backed-up that reputation today with a victory in the Save-Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA. It is Montoya's first Nextel Cup victory, though the win came more from his patience and his team's fuel strategy than outright speed. Many of the top teams pitted on lap 68 under yellow-flag conditions, requiring a run of more than 40 laps to make it to the end of the 110-lap race. At the time, the top-three cars (Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.)- easily the fastest throughout the afternoon - stayed on course before making green-flag stops beginning on lap 72 when Dale Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team pitted from second place. Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon also pitted soon after, putting them deep in the field as the laps wound down. Dale Jr. and the Bud team climbed from 39th place on lap 73 to finish the afternoon in 13th place. Earnhardt Jr. remains in 12th place in the Nextel Cup point standings, but extended the margin to 13th place to 96 points with ten races remaining before the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Dale Jr., starting 3rd, a career-best for the Infineon road course, made a move early, passing Bud Pole Award winner Jamie McMurray on the first lap, and then ran second to Robby Gordon for the first 19 laps. McMurray went back by the Bud car at that stage, but Junior continued to run laps easily among the fastest in the field. With fuel strategy being key at the 11-turn road course, the Bud team made the first of their two stops on lap 33, which dropped them to 39th position, but they steadily moved forward, climbing back into the top-10 on lap 46, then the top-five on lap 68. On the lap 69 restart, Earnhardt Jr. passed Robby Gordon and closed on leader Tony Stewart before stopping for the final time on lap 72. The stop again dropped them to 39th position, but their ascent through the field began immediately as the team expected nearly all of the cars ahead of them to stop again for fuel.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"No question we had a top-five car today. It's the best car I've had here (at Sonoma), and I also drove better than I think I ever had before on a road course, so I'm damn proud overall. We weren't the fastest car on the restarts, but after four or five laps, we could out-run almost anyone. I felt really racy and it was exciting to make a lot of passes on guys that are considered some of the best in the world. It's frustrating to end up without a finish that shows how good we were. But we did what we had to do. We had a two-stop strategy for the day - and we stopped on the laps we believed were the best strategy. We really didn't think any of those guys who stopped before we did could make it to the end on fuel. If we had a green-white-checkered finish, we would have seen a lot more guys run out of fuel and we would have been cruising to the finish. But, they made it somehow and we ended up - again - without a top-10 here. But, no matter what the finishing order says, this is the best we've ever done here from start to finish. The way the car performed and the way this team is working together - whether you wanna talk about pit stops or preparing a car that qualified third - I'm excited about next week and the week after that. We're really improving all the time. I'm real proud of everyone at DEI for the cars I've enjoyed driving the last few months."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. was easily one of the fastest cars on the track all afternoon - but it often took a lap or two on each restart for the Bud machine to really get to full-speed.
Dale Jr: (during a yellow flag on lap 56 - after holding off eventual winner Montoya on several restarts): "Hell yeah! (to spotter Steve Hmiel): "If you've got Juan's spotter, tell him thanks for being patient with me. He makes me nervous on these restarts."
Hmiel: "I'm with him. You're doing great. And now you've got the 41 car (Reed Sorenson) between you and him for this restart."
Dale Jr: "We're quicker once we get going, but on the restarts he tries really hard to out-brake you in a straight line."
A few laps later, Dale Jr, reiterated his goal of a top-10 finish.
Dale Jr: (proudly) "Write this down - it's past halfway and I'm still in the top-10."
Tony Gibson (interim crew chief): "You're doin' great. You've got a top-two car based on lap times. Once the field spreads out, you can really show the speed."
When many cars pitted on lap 68 under a yellow-flag, Dale Jr. seemed shocked that the teams would gamble on fuel mileage with so many laps remaining:
Dale Jr: (surprised) "God dang!!"
Gibson: "We'll be OK."
Dale Jr: (still shocked) "They obviously think they can make it!"
Gibson: "Well, we can't make it from here - and we're a faster car than all of them. They'll need a ton of cautions to make it."