by Lynne Huntting
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA of Colombia won his first NASCAR Nextel Cup race in his sixteenth start Sunday on the 1.99-mile elevated road course at Infineon Raceway in the heart of Northern California's wine country. He took the lead with seven to go in the 110-lap race. His Margin of Victory over runner-up KEVIN HARVICK/#29 Chevrolet was 4.097 seconds.
JEFF BURTON finished third and said fuel mileage was the difference in getting his car to such a good finish despite the major suspension problems this weekend. “I spent a couple of days couple weeks ago at the Kevin Harvick Institute of Road Course Driving, got my degree and everything didn't cost a whole lot. Pretty cheap for anybody looking to go.”
One clearly disappointed driver was ROBBY GORDON/#7 Ford, who took the lead from pole sitter JAMIE McMURRAY/#26 Ford on the first lap, led twice for a race-high of 48 laps but finished sixteenth. His take on the frustration of the race for him: “You look at the monitor and look at the guys who beat us and they were nowhere all day long. It's just disappointing that fuel strategy makes a difference of a race win or not. With our rental programme that we get, obviously we don't get the same mileage that Biffle (GREG BIFFLE/#16 Ford-fifth) or Rudd (RICKY RUDD/#88 Ford-eleventh) do and we're gonna have to discuss that because we weren't gonna make it. I told Gene (GENE NEAD) 'I'd rather just run out of fuel than finish sixteenth.' We barely made it the way we did it, so, obviously we've got to get with the boys at Roush and Yates and figure out why we're getting a quarter of a gallon less per lap than the other guys. It's a big deal. I was cruising saving fuel.”
The six Toyotas running the race was the most so far this season. Toyota's top finish Sunday in the Toyota-sponsored race was P.J. JONES who was filling in for DAVID REUTIMANN/#00. Jones' twelfth place finish from a last place start was the best finish so far this season for the new Michael Waltrip team.
JEFF GORDON/#24 Chevrolet started forty-first and finished seventh. He said: “It was a great run. We played the strategy the best we possibly could. We had cautions fall our way, which was a good fortune for us to gain spots. But those guys were able to make it all the way and we weren't and had to get a splash and go. And it was fun racing with Tony (TONY STEWART/#20 Chevrolet). I don't mind if we bump and bang every once in a while as long as we don't crash. It was fun to be up there to come from that far back.” Gordon ran as high as third before he fell back.
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsport team-mate, JIMMIE JOHNSON/#48 Chevrolet started forty-second and finished seventh, after running fifth at one point.
BORIS SAID/#60 Ford ran fourth for a long time and finished ninth. He's not exactly one of the road racing specialists, although that is his background. Said is running an abbreviated Cup schedule based on sponsorship, and makes no secret of wanting to run a full Cup season.
Jones was the top finishing drivers of those who were brought in for the road course weekend. RON FELLOWS/#96 Chevrolet started eleventh, briefly ran second in the middle of the race, and finished fifteenth. BUTCH LEITZINGER/#23 Toyota started thirtieth, would gain positions, then got hit or spin, fall back and then work his way back through the pack, sometimes passing the same cars several times. He finished twenty-eighth.
In his first-ever Cup start, MARC GOOSSENS of Belgium started twenty-first and finished thirty-sixth. He races for BILL RILEY and EDDIE D'HONDT in #91 Toyota. The team is seeking sponsorship so it can run more races. Goossens was involved in a three-car melee on the first lap in Turn Eleven, and had to be towed out of harms' way. He worked himself back onto the lead lap and ran as high as twenty-first at one point.