Juan Pablo Montoya needs a victory on an oval track to validate his NASCAR career, and for the second time this season, he came tantalizing close Sunday. After leading at Richmond, only to be undone by an untimely caution, Montoya was out front at Dover after Jimmie Johnson was penalized for jumping the restart with 19 laps left.
Montoya held the top spot for 16 laps, but Tony Stewart, on superior tires, passed Montoya for the win on lap 398 of 400. Montoya didn't win the race, but he gained an abundance of respect from Stewart.
"Both of us are hungry for a win," said Stewart, who had suffered through a slump of his own this season. "I spoke to him earlier in the week, and we are parked right next to each other in the motorhome lot. For someone like him, he's an Indy 500 champion. There's no doubt he knows how to drive. There's no doubt he knows how to win races.
"At this level, it truly is about the people that you're with. It's like he mentioned the other day, he went through the lowest of low times last year with Ganassi (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing), and those guys have made huge, huge steps in their program this year. Now they are reaping the rewards of it, both him and Jamie (McMurray). It's good to see, because Juan is a championship-caliber driver. Where he was running in the field last year is not indicative of his skill and talent as a driver, and it was good to see him in a position to win the race."
Stewart appreciated the fact that, with victory in his sights, Montoya didn't resort to underhanded tactics.
"Like I said, he could have made it a lot worse on us and he ran with respect," Stewart noted. "When you're hungry for a win, it's easy to say, 'Hey, I did what I had to do.' He ran us with the utmost of respect, and I think he deserves a lot of credit and recognition for that."