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Jimmie Johnson wins NASCAR's Brickyard 400 on Juan Pablo Montoya's speeding gaffe

INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson cashed in on the most expensive speeding ticket in NASCAR history, grabbing an improbable third victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday when a penalty to Juan Pablo Montoya blew the Brickyard 400 wide open.

In a performance that mirrored his dominating Indianapolis 500 victory nine years ago, Montoya was in cruise control as he led 116 laps and built a 5-second lead over the competition. Then NASCAR flagged him for speeding on a routine pit stop with 35 laps remaining, and the driver became unglued.

"I swear on my children and my wife that I was not speeding!" he shouted over his radio. "There is no way!"

Crew chief Brian Pattie begged his driver to calm down.

"Don't tell me to relax, dude!" Montoya yelled. "We had this in the bag."

Indeed he did, but the penalty dropped him to 12th and relegated him to an 11th-place finish. Montoya, who had moved as high as sixth in the Sprint Cup standings as he ran out front, instead fell to 10th.

The difference in his paycheck was severe: Johnson earned $448,001 for the victory; Montoya got $224,048.

The performance was reminiscent of Montoya's win in the 2000 Indy 500, when he led 167 of 200 laps in his first race at the storied track. His team celebrated his return with a retro paint scheme that duplicated that winning car as Montoya bid to become the first driver to win the Indy 500 and the Brickyard.

"I was super fast," said Montoya, who led 116 laps, the most by a nonwinner of the Brickyard.

Too fast.

NASCAR said the electronic timing system caught Montoya twice exceeding the limit as he drove down pit road.

"There's nothing to prove wrong," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "It's about as simple math as you can use."

The penalty opened the race for anyone else to claim and overshadowed Johnson's third win in the past four years at Indy. Johnson, who won for the third time this season, also became the first driver to win in consecutive seasons since Indy opened to NASCAR 16 years ago.

Johnson wouldn't speculate on whether he would have won had Montoya not been penalized.

"I do know I have the trophy," he offered. "I hate it for him. I know it is a story. Juan led so many laps, but when we come back and look at it two months from now, the stat sheet is going to have a 'W' next to my name."

Points leader Tony Stewart, a two-time Brickyard winner who finished third, wasn't sure anyone could beat Montoya.

"He never really was challenged all day," Stewart said. "He had the car; he had the talent to do it. He just made a mistake, and it cost him."

Johnson had to hold off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin to get it, though. After Montoya's penalty, Martin moved into the lead for the restart with 24 laps to go, and Johnson lined up on his outside.

Johnson sailed to the front, only to have to hold off Martin over the final five laps. "Some laps, I'd do everything right to get a gap," Johnson said. "Other laps, he'd do it right, close the gap. It just kept going back and forth."

Martin, who at 50 became the oldest pole-sitter in Indy's 100 years, finished second. "I would have liked to win it," Martin said. "Just got beat by Superman."

Johnson took a victory lap with his crew piled on a Corvette. "To win here is the coolest feeling ever," he said. "To ride around that lap and absorb the energy of this place, the history of the track … at that point, you start thinking about what this place is and what's gone on here."

Jimmie Johnson wins NASCAR's Brickyard 400 on Juan Pablo Montoya's speeding gaffe 07/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 7:51am]
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