NASCAR Needs Montoya to Succeed

In the Brickyard 400 a few weeks ago, third-year Cup competitor Juan Pablo Montoya led a race-high 116 of 160 laps, at one point holding a lead of more than five seconds over the field.

Montoya was so dominant during the race that he looked to be an almost sure lock for the win. But a startling pit road speeding penalty took the lead from Montoya, as he was forced to serve a pass-through for the violation. He restarted in 12th position after a subsequent caution and finished the race 11th.

What made the incident all the more dramatic – besides the fact that Montoya had such a stout car – was his reaction over the radio after he learned of the penalty. “I swear on my children and my wife that I was not speeding!” he shouted on the team radio. “There is no way! Thank you NASCAR for screwing my day!”

From NASCAR’s perspective, the issue was black and white. Pit road speeds are monitored electronically and a computer notifies officials when a competitor exceeds the preapproved pit road speed limit. End of story.

Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the speeding penalty itself – which took Montoya out of contention for his first oval course win – was the reaction of the fans. Feeding off Montoya’s emotions (his outburst was heard during the TV broadcast of the race), internet message boards and social networking sites quickly lit up with fans crying foul, alleging that NASCAR sabotaged Montoya and intentionally took the win away from him.

But, to what end? What motivation would NASCAR have to prevent Montoya from winning -presupposing that you accept the premise that NASCAR tampers with the electronic data from the pit road scoring loops?

Fans proposed two main theories: 1) The race was extremely boring, with Montoya leading all day and no passing out front, so NASCAR wanted to shake things up; or, 2) Montoya was penalized for saying in a pre-race TV interview that he would be points racing at Indy and would not taking any risks for a win.

Even if you believe either or both of those things to be true, and even if you subscribe to the notion that NASCAR does, in fact, tamper with race results, the question remains – was it in NASCAR’s best interest overall to keep Montoya out of Victory Lane at Indy?

The answer is absolutely not.

Nothing would make NASCAR happier than to forge greater inroads into the Hispanic market, which is estimated to comprise only about 10% of the NASCAR fan base.  To read the full story, click here.