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Yellow flags dictate Ganassi's Brickyard 400 performance

His pace was so blistering that he was lulling the crowd into a trance.

A red Chevrolet Impala was cross the bricks, make the turn into one, with a car trailing behind. About a minute later, the same No. 42 machine would do the same thing-only the distance between the nearest competitor continued to creep up.

This was Lap 138 and Juan Pablo Montoya was running away from his teammate Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle-who fought amongst themselves for the second spot behind what appeared to be a new Brickyard 400 champion.

But then came a piece of debris, a yellow flag, and an alarm clock for the gallery.

"You watch both of them, believe me, your watching everything all the time," said Chip Ganassi, and what unfolded over the next 22 laps is something he'll remember with both sadness and celebration.

When that caution flag came out, Montoya had a two second lead, but his team decided to gamble and change all four tires instead of two as many other competitors were doing. The move proved costly, as his competitors flew around him and left him behind in seventh place.

Montoya-who led 116 laps in the 2009 race before getting a speeding penalty-would struggle after that and crashed eight laps later and finished 32nd.

"Bad call. Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires," said Crew Chief Brian Pattie in a statement through his team to NASCAR.com. Montoya didn't speak to the media following the race.

What is ironic about that caution, however, is that it allowed his teammate McMurray to get back into a race in which he seemed ready to be a runner up. When Montoya dropped out of the lead, Kevin Harvick raced to the top spot quickly and held it until the No. 42 hit the wall coming into turn four.

That opened the door for McMurray.

"My car just had way more grip," said the driver when the green flag went down for the final time on Sunday afternoon. "Sometimes your better off to be lucky than good I guess."

Either way McMurray raced quickly around Harvick, getting out to the lead and creating some distance before finally taking the checkered flag for his first Brickyard 400 victory, adding to his 2010 resume which includes a win at the Daytona 500.

When he made it to victory circle, though, he realized the stroke of luck which put him there instead of his teammate Montoya.

"I'm a believer in fate, and I really thought today was Juan's day," said McMurray, who first heard of Montoya's trouble when he saw his crash on the speedway jumbotrons. "That's really unfortunate, that team has had some awesome race cars, they just can't make it till the end."

Such is life in NASCAR, according to Ganassi, who completes a unique Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 sweep thanks to McMurray's late charge.

"You never know how to make calls late in the race, you have history you go by," said Ganassi of Montoya's teams decision after the caution flag in the pits. "One day its the right call, the next day its wrong, the next minute its the wrong call."

Along with an unexpected yellow flag, for better or worse.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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