INDIANAPOLIS – There was no police officer to flirt with, no traffic court to appeal to, no way out of what was essentially a $224,000 speeding ticket. So Juan Pablo Montoya, frustration boiling over at committing an all-timer of a racing gaffe, vented by going nuts over his team’s radio.
With an indomitable car and a huge lead in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Montoya got nabbed for speeding on pit road by a meager .11 mph – this in a car that can go 200. He was penalized by NASCAR so late in the race that a near certain victory Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was gone.
Jimmie Johnson won the race and the $448,001 winner’s purse. Montoya finished 11th and took home $224,048. He didn’t wait for the race to be over before blasting NASCAR for what he immediately felt was an inaccurate assessment of his speed, even though it was determined by electronic sensors.
“If they do this to me, I’m going to kill them,” he barked into his radio when informed of his penalty, the “they” meaning NASCAR officials. “I swear on my children and my wife I wasn’t speeding.
“I hope [NASCAR president] Mike Helton is listening to this, because you’d better double check what you did, because I got robbed. I’ve been robbed before and screwed before, but they overdid themselves this week.”
And with that, Montoya was just warming up.
“Why would I speed if I had a 5-second lead?” he argued to no one as he continued to circle IMS in futility, unable to speed back to the front of the pack.
Gone was his shot of becoming the first driver ever to win both the Indianapolis 500, which he won in 2000, and the Brickyard 400.
“I want to park the car right now,” he said to his crew. “Let’s just park the car right now and go home.”
When told by crew chief Brian Pattie to concentrate on driving, Montoya shouted, “Don’t tell me to relax, dude! We had this in the bag.”
He then went back to ripping NASCAR.
“[Chairman] Brian France tells us we need to race hard. … And look what they did.”
The stock car circuit shrugged off the criticism, saying the sensors don’t lie. Helton declined comment.
“I would’ve been pissed too,” NASCAR competition director John Darby said.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Montoya’s wife, Connie, was blasting NASCAR for a “bs call” and compared it to Juan Pablo’s days in Formula 1, which is famous for questionable decisions and penalties.
Montoya eventually cooled off, a little, after the race. He expressed a mood of resignation.
“I was cruise[ing],” he said. “I was super fast.”
He later tweeted that he “had a rough day to say the least” and “[I] don’t wanna say much of what happened, we just have to move on.”
Pattie said there would be no appeal, even though NASCAR had made a mistaken speeding call on Montoya at a race earlier this year.
“It’s electronic; they did their job,” Pattie said. “It’s not the days of the old handheld, so we’re fine.”
Drivers are allowed to go 55 mph on Indy’s pit road but are given a 5 mph cushion, essentially making the speed limit 60 mph. In the second of eight timed segments on pit road, Montoya was caught going 60.06 mph. In the fourth segment he went 60.11.
“The reason we do that electronically is so human hands don’t touch it,” Darby said. “It’s a simple transponder passing the line; it records the time and computes the miles per hour.”
There have been 74 pit road speeding penalties this year, although none as costly as this one.
For all Montoya’s bluster – he might want to explain that children and wife line to his children and his wife – he has no one to blame but himself. He had crushed the competition here all day, leading 116 laps until he screwed up in his final pit just 35 laps from the finish line. For long stretches he held a lead of more than 5 seconds, a runaway by NASCAR standards.
With such a machine and one of racing’s most prestigious events within reach, he never should have pushed the pit road speed limit so close. This was a time to play it safe.
Going too fast was about the only way for him to lose the race.
“I didn’t run around him all day long,” Johnson said when asked if he thought he could’ve caught Montoya without the penalty. Not that it mattered what Johnson thought.
“I do know I have the trophy.”
It’ll be a bitter thing for Montoya to hear. The former star on various open-wheel circuits, he’s made a long, slow development in stock car racing. His first NASCAR victory on an oval, in a signature race no less, would’ve served as the Colombian’s coming out party.
Instead, he’ll have to live down blowing the Brickyard, which is why he had screamed into his radio, wailed about a conspiracy and spouted off about killing someone. It was a wild rant even by racing standards.
He’d been nabbed over the speed limit by the slimmest of margins and wound up with perhaps the most ill-timed and costly citation ever – the loss of both big money and a big trophy.
And the only person to blame was staring at him in the rearview mirror.