Another year, another Brickyard 400 heartbreak for Juan Pablo Montoya.
Last year, Montoya pinned his loss on NASCAR over what he believed was a false speeding penalty. But he may be more accurate in blaming this year’s loss on NASCAR than last year’s.
Montoya had the dominant car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again, leading a race-high 86 laps from the Pole position. But a caution with 30 laps to go turned his race upside-down.
Montoya held a 3.5 second lead when the caution came out for “debris”. When shown on television, the debris appeared to be either a soft-drink cup all the way at the bottom of the track on the backstretch, or a piece of rubber all the way up against the wall in one of the turns.
Either way, it was obvious that the caution was for the infamous “phantom debris”, and was likely brought out to make the race more interesting, seeing as Montoya was running away with the victory.
Under the caution, a variety of pit strategies played out. Six drivers took two tires, including eventual winner Jamie McMurray. Montoya took four; a move that put him back in the seventh position for the restart.
Once he was back in traffic, Montoya’s car could make up no ground, and actually began to fall through the field. In an attempt to make something happen, Montoya over-drove the car, and smacked the turn 4 wall with 18 laps remaining. It was a move that ended his day.
And all because of a “debris” caution.
Would Montoya have won the race had the caution with 30 laps to go not come out? Maybe, maybe not. Did the caution cost Montoya the race? Not exactly, because he still had a chance to win even after the caution came out.
But was it wrong of NASCAR to throw what appeared to be a “phantom debris” caution in an effort to make an otherwise boring race interesting in the closing laps? Absolutely.
And if Juan Pablo Montoya wanted to pin his second-straight Brickyard 400 heartbreak on NASCAR, who could blame him?