As the Brickyard 400 entered its closing stages, Jamie McMurray figured the race was shaping up just as it should.
McMurray already had won this year’s Daytona 500 for his NASCAR team, which is co-owned by Chip Ganassi, and Dario Franchitti of Ganassi’s IndyCar Series team won the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Now, McMurray was running second to teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who clearly had the strongest car Sunday, and McMurray thought it fitting that Montoya would spread Ganassi’s success and win the Brickyard 400, considered one of NASCAR’s crown-jewel races along with the Daytona 500.
But when the race ended, it was McMurray in Victory Lane after Montoya suffered his second late-race setback in two years at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In doing so, McMurray gave Ganassi an unprecedented trifecta in the history of motor sports: winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year.
“It’s unreal right now,” McMurray said, adding that Montoya “obviously had the dominant car again. I really thought it was his day.”
Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick finished second, Greg Biffle was third, Clint Bowyer fourth and two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart was fifth.
In a big surprise, Jimmie Johnson struggled with an ill-handling car and finished 22nd. The reigning Cup champion has won three Brickyard 400s, including the last two, and started second Sunday.
McMurray became the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year. Dale Jarrett did so in 1996 and Johnson did it in 2006.
Ganassi’s “triple crown” also was notable because his NASCAR team often had struggled before this season — as had McMurray, who started his career with Ganassi, left for four years with Roush Fenway Racing and then rejoined Ganassi this season after finishing a distant 22nd in points last year.
“Is it surreal? Yes,” Ganassi said. “From where we were awhile back, people had Jamie written off, people had written us off.”
Montoya, 34, might have used the word surreal to describe his race as well, though he had no comment after climbing from his car.
The Colombian, an Indy 500 winner before he began racing in NASCAR, started on the pole and led 86 of the 160 laps. He appeared poised to erase the memory of last year’s race, when he also was dominant but finished 11th after a late-race penalty for speeding on pit road.
But when a caution flag prompted the leaders to pit with 23 laps remaining Sunday, Montoya’s crew gave him four tires while six other drivers, including McMurray, gambled by changing only two tires and restarted ahead of Montoya.
Theoretically, Montoya might have been able to charge to the front again with four fresh tires. Instead, his No. 42 Chevrolet struggled in traffic and began fading. Then, with 15 laps left, Montoya hit the wall and slammed into Dale Earnhardt Jr. Montoya finished 32nd and Earnhardt was 27th.
Harvick had passed McMurray for the lead at nearly the same moment. But after another caution flag brought out by Montoya’s wreck, McMurray drove past Harvick and secured the win.
“On the first restart, it took off great,” Harvick said of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. “We were able to run Jamie down and pass him. Second restart, it didn’t take off so great.”
The race got off to a ragged start in front of an estimated 140,000 on a warm, partly cloudy day when Kyle Busch spun in the second turn on the opening lap, causing a wreck that collected six other drivers, including Sam Hornish Jr. and David Reutimann. But Busch rallied and finished eighth.
“I don’t know what happened on that spin on the first lap. I guess I just lost it,” Busch said. “Fortunately, we came back.”
Montoya, a former IndyCar and Formula One driver, joined NASCAR with Ganassi in 2007 and won his first Cup race that year on the twisty Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif. But Montoya has yet to win on an oval track in NASCAR, and he’s now gone 112 races since his Sonoma victory.
“I know he’s mad” about a Brickyard 400 win again eluding him, Ganassi said. “But he’s over it. It’s racing. This is what he does for a living.”