Tony Stewart defied all odds, coming from a 22nd starting position at the Monster Mile, to battle Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 44th Annual FedEx benefiting Autism Speaks race. This was Smoke’s first victory of the season and only his third top-10 finish in 2013.
“This was not a car that could have won the race,” Stewart said. “Just great pit strategy at the end.”
“Steve Addington (crew chief) made a great call there that last caution and gave us the opportunity to race for it up there.”
“Just really proud of the Code 3 Associates Chevy,” Stewart continued. “Code 3 has done such an awesome job of getting everybody in Oklahoma back on their feet.”
“I couldn’t think of a better wayto celebrate their work.”
Stewart acknowledged that this has been a tough season, however, the win will certainly prove that the team is headed in the right direction, thanks to their perseverance.
“Our guys at our shop have been digging,” Smoke said. “None of these guys get down.”
“That is what carries you to days like today at the end of the day.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, finishing second in the No. 42 Energizer Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, benefitted from a black flag of the strongest car in the race when NASCAR ruled on lap 381 that Jimmie Johnson jumped the restart. The penalty sent Johnson through the pits for a pass through penalty and Montoya to the race lead.
Montoya, however, could not hold off Tony Stewart and had to settle for the runner up race finish instead. And he admitted that it was a struggle in spite of testing earlier at the Monster Mile.
“Our car was OK,” Juan Pablo said in the media center after the race. “We came here and did a test before the race.”
“It was a lot cooler, so when we unloaded we had to do quite a bit of work on the car,” Montoya continued. “We struggled with loose all day.”
“We were really, really loose and the longer we would run, the looser we would get,” Montoya said. “It was a bit of a hit and miss.”
“On one of the runs under green, we decided to make a couple changes on the car and it just came to life,” Montoya continued. “It came to life at the right time.”
“It was a shame to lose but I just couldn’t hold Tony off.”
While Juan Pablo Montoya thought that Johnson was trying to time the restart just right, he admitted that he would have done the exact same thing given the circumstances.
“Jimmie was letting off and I knew he was trying to jump the start,” Montoya said. “And I backed up a little bit for him and when we got to the line, he wanted to time it and he timed it too well.”
“He wanted to get the jump on me and he just jumped it too much,” JPM continued. “I would have tried to do the same thing.”
Runner up Montoya also traded paint with Kurt Busch, in the No. 78 Furniture Row/Sealy Chevrolet, who finished 12th.
“It’s weird, I got to his bumper – I don’t think I touched him, got him loose, got into turn three and he gave me a tap and I’m like, I don’t think I hit you,” Montoya said. “But it’s OK.”
“It’s racing hard.”
Montoya also credited his good finish to the growing chemistry with his crew chief Chris Heroy. But that relationship has been a struggle as they found ways to work together to get the car to Montoya’s liking.
“When we started, we sucked and it was hard,” Montoya said. “He had a certain mentality as to how the car should be set up.”
“He didn’t get that if he set it up that way, I couldn’t drive it,” Montoya continued. “You have to give me something that I can drive and be comfortable.”
“It took a little time but now we’re clicking real well,” Montoya said. “And we’ve been getting good results every week.”
Although the car was a handful, Montoya was pleased with the race finish and acknowledged that it bodes well for their continuing success.
“It was a hell of a finish,” Montoya said. “It’s been awhile since we finished this good.”
“We’ve had near misses but I think the wins are coming.”Montoya continued. “I’ve said this before, you’ve got to get top-5s and top-10s to be able to add wins.”
“Today we gave ourselves a good chance but the car was a little too much of a handful there at the end,” Montoya said. “We tried.”
This was Montoya’s third top-10 finish in 13 races at Dover and his third top-10 finish of the season.
Jeff Gordon, driving the No. 24 AARP Credit Cards from Chase Chevrolet, finished a strong third, ahead of all of his other Hendrick Motorsports teammates. This was Gordon’s 23rd top-10 finish at Dover.
“Yeah it was a fantastic finish for us,” Gordon said. “We battled hard all day long, hovering 13th, 14th, I think we got to maybe 10th at one time.”
“I knew that clean air was making a huge difference,” Gordon continued. “So, we were fortunate there where we only had a few laps on the tires and we decided to stay out.”
Gordon acknowledged that this run was exactly what he was hoping for to turn his season around.
“It’s certainly a great feeling,” Gordon said. “We just have to fight.”
“We fought hard today, very hard and this is a tough place,” Gordon continued. “It was not an easy race but this team never gave up.”
Gordon jumped four spots in the point standings, from 15th to 11th, now within striking distance of Chase contention.
Kyle Busch, driving the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, finished in the fourth position, in spite of yet again some sort of parts failure.
“We must have broken a right front bump stop or something,” Busch said. “Just another parts failure for us.”
“It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to capitalize on getting a win today,” Busch continued. “I felt like we had something for the 48 but it didn’t come down to having to race the 48.”
“Just seems to be our two years continuing today.”
Brad Keselowski in the Blue Deuce, with his crew chief Paul Wolfe back at his side, finished in the fifth position. But the reigning champ was most complimentary of past champ Stewart after the race.
“We drove hard all day but didn’t have the speed to win the race,” Keselowski said. “It’s good to see Tony win.”
“That was a good race,” Keselowski said. “I was having fun watching him.”
After the race, however, NASCAR reported that Keselowski’s No. 2 was found to be too low in the front in post-race inspection, with potential penalties to be announced later in the week.
Certainly, one of the most dramatic moments of the race was the black flag of Jimmie Johnson, who had worked his way through the pack and looked to be the car to beat. Understandably, Johnson saw the restart just a bit differently fromJuan Pablo Montoya.
“No, I was half throttle,” Johnson said of the restart. “At some point you have to go.”
“I’m waiting for him and he never comes,” Johnson said of Montoya. “Chad (Knaus, crew chief) told me to take off and not worry about it.”
“Not a good way to lose the race,” Johnson lamented. “We had the strongest car.”
There were also several engine issues in the race as well, including Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., both with Toyota engines.
“Something let go in the motor,” Truex said. “Just dropped a cylinder and started smoking all at once.”
“Same thing happened to the 20 it looked like,” Truex continued. “Pretty disappointing.”
Truex Jr. finished 38th while Kenseth finished 40th.
“Something broke in the engine,” Kenseth said, sounding eerily similar to Truex’s report. “You have to finish these things.”
“Man, it’s disappointing.”
The other dramatic moment in the race occurred between Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford, who traded paint and then wrecked each other.
“We just got wrecked,” Gilliland said. “It is a shame.”
“We had a fast race car and a great run going and unfortunately someone lost their patience a little bit and we got wrecked.”
“It is too bad but that is just the way it goes I guess.”
Ryan Newman declined to comment after the incident.
Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top ten finishers in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.