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Montoya, Dryer Driver OK After Explosion

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2012

The fans in the infield near Turn 3 had a good view of the flaming wreck at Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Juan Pablo Montoya has acquired a bit of a reputation as a driver who runs into things on a race track. On Monday night, he broke new ground when, under caution, he slammed into a jet dryer which was cleaning the track during the Daytona 500.

The jet dryer exploded in flames and the ensuing fire brought out an extended red flag stoppage of the race at Daytona International Speedway.

Montoya’s car and the jet dryer were destroyed but neither Montoya nor the driver of the jet-dryer truck were seriously injured.

“I have hit a lot of things,” Montoya said, “but a jet dryer? I mean, no.”

The bizarre incident occurred with 40 laps to go in the 200-lap race. Montoya had just pitted and was streaking up the back stretch to catch the pack and pace car when he approached two jet dryers which were at the top of the banking blowing debris into the infield.

Suddenly, Montoya’s Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet snapped sideways and slid into the lead jet dryer.

Jet fuel gushed from a ruptured 200-gallon tank and flowed down the banking. It suddenly ignited and flames lit up the night.

“I really got out of the car fast,” Montoya said. “I looked up and I saw the guy out of the jet dryer. I saw a little bit of fire, my car was on fire. I saw the ambulance and walked to the ambulance.

“I am always really quick to get out of the car. In open-wheel they always check you at the beginning of the year and you have a certain time you have to get out. You really learn to get out of the car fast.”

Montoya had complained of a vibration in his car prior to his pit stop. His team checked out the rear suspension of the car before sending it back out.

“I told them when I left the pits something wasn’t right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack,” Montoya said. “Every time I got on the gas, it vibrated. So, I came back in and they checked all the rear-end and they said it was ok. I was going down the back straightaway, and I was going in fourth gear, but, we weren’t even going that fast. Every time I got on the gas I could feel the rear really squeezing. I got on the brakes to travel up and while I was telling the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving, the car just turned right.”

Montoya said when the car started to turn, he took a deep breath.

“I didn’t think about the truck,” he said, “I thought ‘I’m actually hitting the jet and it’s not going to be fun.’ Before I got there I was thinking ‘this thing is going to be on fire pretty bad’ and it was.”

Asked if he heard the explosion, Montoya said,

“Oh yeah, it burned the helmet and everything. It’s not where you want to finish the Daytona 500. Everybody on the Target team, with this great Chevy car, did an amazing job today. We didn’t bump anybody, nobody bumped us, and we only had 40 laps to go. I thought we had a great car. I thought we were in the right place. Everything was working well and go through that, it sucks.”

After an extended cleanup, NASCAR officials inspected the track and declared it fit for racing.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2012
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