Jane Miller's racing column.
Juan Pablo Montoya came one place short Sunday of becoming the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, finishing second in his first NASCAR race at the storied oval.
Montoya ran in the top five all day long and acted like he had driven stock cars around this 2 1/2-mile track his whole career, though he hadn't raced on the oval here since 2000.
"It was a lot of fun," said Montoya, who won his first Nextel Cup race on the road course at Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, Calif., last month.
Montoya adapted to this track instantly when he came here in May 2000, winning the 500 in his only attempt. He ran the Formula One course for the next six years without much success, but his oval skills all came back to him when he took the green flag.
"The track, to learn, is pretty simple," he said. "I found it pretty simple when I was here the first time. It's a very different oval, but it's a mixture of an oval and a road course. I like it."
In fact, the configuration even solved a chronic handling problem the team has struggled with this season.
"It's funny because I was telling my crew chief, most of the times we have problems it just past the center (of the corner) of a normal oval and here, just past the center, you're out of the corner," Montoya said. "I think it worked pretty good."
Despite coming so close to victory, Montoya was not disappointed with his finish.
"They told me, 'If everybody pits we're going to stay out,' " Montoya said of his team's late-race strategy. "And I said, 'Yeah, but to be honest, (race winner Tony Stewart) is just too fast. Even if he pits, he's still going to come out and beat us.' And they stayed out, but I don't think anybody had anything for Tony today."
First Top 10
Caterpillar-sponsored Dave Blaney had his best finish of the season, finishing ninth.
The Cat team used pit strategy to improve its position, twice taking two tires on pit stops, and was able to hold on for its first top 10.
"We were as good if not better than any other cars that I was around out there today," Blaney said. "This was a brand-new car today, and that run really shows how strong our program is getting."
As a bonus, the team finally moved into the top 35 in owner points, which guarantees Blaney a starting spot in next week's race.
"It's a huge load off our shoulders, but, of course, now that we got there, we have to stay there," he said. "With the way we've been running, I've been very pleased. I think if we can just stay out of trouble and keep running like we have been, then we will be just fine."
Defending Brickyard champion Jimmie Johnson's bad luck at Indianapolis returned this year when his day ended with a hard crash and fire on lap 62.
Johnson had been in a multi-car accident on lap 45 and sustained damage to the car. Then on lap 62, a left-front blew going into Turn 3 starting the fire, which singed Johnson's eyelashes.
"It's feast or famine here for us," Johnson said. "That's the first time I've ever had flames inside the car. And at that point, you just want to get the car stopped but I've got cars flying by me on both sides. Finally I got into the grass without anybody getting into me and I came out of the car."
Johnson also crashed at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago.
"It's been a steady roll of bad races for us," Johnson said. "We've had lots of speed . . . but we don't have the results to show for it. We've got to keep fighting and make sure we stay in the Chase."
All three cars which won the major races at IMS this year had a paint scheme which incorporated the colors orange and black.
Dario Franchitti's Canadian Club car won the Indy 500 while Lewis Hamilton, in the chrome, orange and black Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes, won the Formula One race last month.
Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet sports the familiar orange body with black trim.
Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star
Jane Miller can be reached at 686-3207 or email@example.com.