Juan Pablo Montoya's loss was Jimmie Johnson's gain Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Capitalising on a pit-road speeding penalty applied to Montoya's otherwise dominant car —and on the outside lane on a restart with 24 laps left — Johnson held off Hendrick team-mate and polesitter Mark Martin to win his second straight Allstate 400 at the Brickyard - and his third in the past four years.
Johnson staved off a last-ditched challenge from Martin through the first two corners at the 2.5-mile track and streaked across the yard of bricks 0.400secs ahead of the veteran in a race that gave no hint of the chronic tyre problems that punctuated last year's event.
Montoya led 116 laps, more than twice the 57 combined he had led in 92 previous Cup starts, but ended the day frustrated in eleventh place after being called for speeding on pit-lane - something the Colombian vehemently denied had been the case.
Cup points leader Tony Stewart finished third and now leads Johnson by 192 points with six races left before the twelve-driver Chase field is set at Richmond. Johnson moved past ninth-place finisher Jeff Gordon, who trails Stewart by 207 points. Greg Biffle came home fourth, followed by Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann. Matt Kenseth ran tenth to hold the final Chase-eligible position in the standings by 68 points over Reutimann.
“Geez, was he fast,” Johnson said of Martin, “For an old guy, he had me pretty worried. Those last 15-20 laps, we had to drive it so hard just to stay ahead of the #5. I was better in turns three and four than he was, and he had me beat in one and two, and it was kind of a give-and-take thing that was going on. Luckily, we held him off.”
To Johnson, the last restart was critical. Martin chose the inside lane for the restart on lap 137 of 160, and Johnson surged into the lead from the outside as the cars sped through the first two corners.
“Clean air was everything,” said Johnson, who won his third race of the year and the 43rd of his career. “You could only get so close to the car in front of you. I got that restart and put on a great show for the fans. I hope they enjoyed it.”
Over the final green-flag run, Martin said he drove his car as hard as he could without wrecking it.
“I drove my heart out and gave it everything I had,” the 50-year old said, “I'm just thankful that I had a chance to race for the win. I'm disappointed we didn't win, but I got beat by Superman.”
Montoya had a lead of more than four seconds when he came to the pits under green for tyres and fuel on lap 125 but, according to NASCAR, he exceeded the 55mph speed limit entering the pits and was preparing to serve a drive-thru' penalty when Dale Earnhardt Jr's engine exploded at the entrance to pit road, causing the third caution of the race.
The yellow flag saved Montoya from losing a lap, but he remained adamant that he had not exceeded the speed limit.