Harvick wins again, Montoya 11th in NASCAR debut
MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Juan Pablo Montoya looked nothing like the "idiot" he feared he would be in his NASCAR debut, but showed he has a lot to learn before he'll be challenging for wins alongside the likes of Kevin Harvick and Co.
Harvick raced to his eighth Busch Series victory of the season Saturday, capitalizing on Carl Edwards' sloppy restart in overtime at Memphis Motorsports Park to pull to the front and lead teammate Clint Bowyer across the finish line.
Montoya was nowhere near the action, though, after an accident midway through his first NASCAR event contributed to his 11th-place finish. But no one expected him to win in his first race, and his Chip Ganassi Racing team was thrilled with the learning effort.
"It was pretty wild, to be honest," he said. "I learned today you have to pace yourself."
As Ganassi surveyed his damaged No. 42 Dodge, he declared it "mission accomplished" for the former Formula One star and didn't at all mind the crumpled bumpers.
"Style points are for the runway during Fashion Week," Ganassi said.
Montoya qualified ninth and spent the first 148 laps of the race running in the top 10. But he bobbled his Dodge going into one of the tight turns at the 0.75-mile Tennessee track and was tagged from behind by Jason Keller. It sent Montoya into a spin, and forced him to quickly figure out what he had done wrong.
"I lost the back (of the car) coming in," he radioed his crew. "It was my fault completely."
The accident pushed Montoya back to 30th on the restart, and he spent the rest of the race picking off cars and working his way back through the field. But there were bumps along the way: He spun at least two other cars and struggled to figure out NASCAR's give-and-take policy.
"I spun around a couple of guys, but both of them -- my front bumper was in their door when it happened," he said. "I said `I need to try to stop doing that because I am damaging my car.'
"But there are some guys out there who would race like its the last lap. It feels like kindergarten out there."
Montoya's race drew compliments from Harvick, the series champion who declared himself a Montoya fan.
"I'd say they were probably very pleased with the fact that they made all the laps and did what they had to do to gain experience," Harvick said. "He's going to be good. He's got really good car control and he wants to race really bad. They didn't really like the way he raced in Formula One, but I think it will fit him just fine here."
The race drew a decent contingent of Montoya fans, who clumped together in a corner section of the grandstands to support their driver. Wearing bright yellow shirts and hats, and waving Colombian flags when he passed by on the track, the fans gave a glimpse of how the demographics could change next season when Montoya becomes the first nonwhite driver to run a full Nextel Cup season.
His fans always turned out in full force at Indianapolis to see him run the United States Grand Prix, and stood apart with their air horns, cow bells and persistent chants for a driver many consider a national hero. It was clear they had followed him to NASCAR when a pair of fans -- one draped in the Colombian flag, the other wearing a national soccer jersey -- staked out his hauler just to get a glimpse of him before the start of Saturday's race.
When Montoya emerged, they were overcome with excitement as they raced over to meet him and pose for pictures, finally settling in behind him as he made his way to driver introductions with the two fans chanting "Juan Pablo Montoya! Juan Pablo Montoya" in a procession not normally seen in NASCAR.
Meanwhile, Harvick showed his usual domination in a race he didn't even need to be in.
He clinched the Busch Series title one race ago, meaning he could have stayed in Atlanta to concentrate on Sunday's Nextel Cup event rather than rush to Memphis to make the Busch start.
But skipping it was never an option for Harvick, who came to Memphis intent on notching yet another win.
"We were here for checkers or wreckers," he said.
Indeed, he led 80 laps before Edwards passed him late. But the 15th caution set up overtime, and Edwards gave Harvick too much room on the restart and quickly saw Harvick blow past him. Bowyer went with his teammate, and Edwards was shuffled back to third.
"He's fun to race with because he'll stick his nose in there," Edwards said. "I'll get him back, though. If he ever opens the door for me, I'll be ready."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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