Montoya 'lucky to have survived'
3 March 2012
Juan Pablo Montoya's exit from the unprecedented Monday night running of the Daytona 500 made all the headlines the following day; so much so that fans would be forgiven for struggling to recall who actually went on to win the race. (Matt Kenseth, for the record.)
But Montoya's spectacular and deeply frightening crash into the back of a jet dryer, igniting the 200-gallon tank of jet fuel that it carried, was inevitably the dominant image of the night. It happened when a trailing or 'truck' arm - a piece of rear suspension - broke underneath the car, snapping the #42 to the right and sending it sliding up the banking into the jet dryer. There had been nothing Montoya could have done.
"It sucks because the car spun and I'm going 'Oh, driver's side, that's going to suck,'" he recalled. "That's the only thing. You don't think 'Oh my God I'm going to kill myself!' Nah. You go oh, that's going to hurt. It wasn't too bad.
“I think overall, people were kind of amazed that I walked out of that one," he confessed to reporters at Phoenix. "Honestly, everybody was being pretty amazed. Everyone has been really supportive and everything. The bright side is you can joke about it.
"The way I've always looked at it is, 'Either you're going to be okay or you're not,'" he added. "I don't think anyone could hit anything harder than I did ... I'm pretty lucky, to be honest."
Montoya had just been coming out of pit lane for the second time under that caution, having the car checked over because it wasn't feeling right.
"There was a vibration," he explained. "It started to feel weird because then I shifted and it depends on the RPM; it was like on or off. And I said [over the team radio] 'Look, I think there's something wrong.' We looked at everything and everything was fine. And I went out again and we had a problem with the car and that was it, you know."
“Yeah, it was the truck arm that failed," confirmed Montoya's crew chief, Chris Heroy. "In my opinion I think it was close to failing and it hadn't failed yet because the guys went underneath the car and they checked everything and they moved and pulled everything and everything was in place. It was just the loading of the car. It was just too high.”
"It wasn't the start of the season that we wanted," Montoya admitted, before going on to praise the quality of design and construction of the current Car of Tomorrow stock car. "People complained about it and it wasn't this and it wasn't that and the view and the size and the this. I'll guarantee you if we would have been in the older cars I wouldn't have been okay. So I'm pretty happy we are in these cars. It's pretty amazing what NASCAR does.”
One good thing was that Montoya was quickly out of the wrecked car almost before anyone realised just what had happened, which meant that at least Montoya's wife Connie had little time for anxiety. "She was okay," said Montoya. "She saw me get out of the car and it's like, it's all good. You know what I mean. As long as you get out, it's all good, no?
"I'll tell you, my kid was freaked-out," he went on to admit. "My oldest kid was a little bit freaked-out, but he's okay. It's okay. It's part of racing. It happens. And that's it."
It had taken him a while to get to see video footage of what happened. "It's kind of interesting a week later, or five days later, and you're looking back on that," he said. "The replay the first time didn't show anything. It showed the car heading toward the jet dryer and the flame. There's another shot where you can actually see the car hitting. And that's what I do for a living, I guess.”
Fortunately for Montoya, the momentum of the impact threw the #42 clear and he was quickly out of the car before the fire took told.
"There was a little flames for a second. It wasn't much," Montoya insisted. "It didn't even get hot. It's like I saw the flames everywhere and I'm like, I'd better get out of this fast. That was it.”
As for how he felt five days on, Montoya shrugged and said: "I'm feeling okay. My feet are still a little sore, but not bad." He had posted on Twitter earlier in the day "I have my foot in cold and then hot water" about how he was taking care of his injury.
"It's just the top of my feet where it hit; it actually broke the boot [the protective heat shield that goes on the driver's shoe] and everything," he said.
"We're here in Phoenix and everyone was okay from that accident," he said, moving on and determined to look on the brighter side of Monday night's events. "It's very important the guy driving the jet dryer was okay, and the positives are we're here now."
The driver of the jet dryer at Daytona, Duane Barnes, has declined any media interviews about Monday night's crash, but issued a statement confirming that he was all right after the scary incident.
"I appreciate everyone for taking the time to write, call and ask how I am," read the statement. "I am okay and I am amazed at how many people have wished me well. I am also glad Juan Pablo Montoya is okay, and thank him for his concern."
As a result of the crash and fiery explosion that followed, Phoenix International Raceway announced that the operators of jet dryers would have to wear firesuits while working out on the track during this weekend's race activity. Barry had not been wearing safety equipment while working at Daytona.
The president of Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage, has said that he'll make firesuits mandatory there, too.
“I want firesuits and helmets for those guys," said Gossage. "My guys will [wear them] because, if nothing else, I like them and they're good guys."