Juan Pablo Montoya narrowly missed out on victory for the second time of the season, as Tony Stewart spoilt the potential upset at Dover.
Stewart, who has had a poor start to the 2013 season, capitalised on a late-race penalty to Jimmie Johnson and took the lead from Montoya with just three laps to go to cross the line and score his first win and only his third top-ten finish of the year.
“It’s not too many times that you get to outrun Juan Montoya,” said Stewart. “He figured out where I was gaining ground and made the adjustment and I had to move around again and found a little something up top.”
“It’s been such a tough year,” he continued. “We tested here, which I thought would be an advantage. Then yesterday we took a step backward, it seemed like. Yesterday it didn’t seem like was much better, but I’m so proud of (crew chief) Steve Addington and (competition director) Greg Zipadelli and all the guys. They worked late into the night last night and never gave up and kept working today.”
Johnson had dominated the race, but after Montoya beat him out of the pits during the final caution, the multiple-Sprint Cup champion jumped the restart, resulting in a drive through penalty, handing the lead to Montoya with just 14 laps left to run.
Johnson believes, however, that he did not jump the restart, and that it was Montoya who failed to accelerate in time.
“I was half-throttle the whole frontstretch and at some point I have to go,” he said. “In that situation, NASCAR has to make a judgement to decide if you jumped the restart or not, but he was not even going. I don’t know if his car broke or he was off power or what, I don’t know, so I was running half-throttle down the frontstretch and he never come, so at that point we got going. It’s a bummer way to lose a race. We certainly had the winning car.”
Montoya has been running in fine form in recent weeks, scoring three top-tens in the last five races, although he still chases his first oval win. His two NASCAR Sprint Cup wins have come on road courses, his last victory coming at Watkins Glen back in 2010.
Johnson still leads the Sprint Cup standings, although his lead to second placed man, Carl Edwards, has now been cut to 30 points. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick round out the top five.
Elsewhere, reigning champion Brad Keselowski incurred a six point penalty, dropping him down to tenth in the standings, for failing a post-race inspection.
The penalty mirrors the six point deduction handed to Martin Truex, Jr. for a similar rules violation earlier in the year.