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Jimmie Johnson: Pablo Montoya ‘found loophole... played it right’ in Dover restart

Friday, Jun. 07, 2013

Jimmie Johnson doesn’t begrudge Juan Pablo Montoya for what happened last week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

Johnson, in fact, gives Montoya a measure of respect for how things panned out on the final restart of the FedEx 400.

“Juan found a loophole,” Johnson said Friday at Pocono Raceway, where qualifying was rained out for Sunday’s Party In The Poconos 400. “I’m not mad at him. I think he played it right. I took the bait.”

Johnson was black-flagged 19 laps from the end of the Dover race for jumping the re-start. He was alongside leader Montoya on the front row of the re-start and ended up with a 17th-place finish after the penalty.

At issue Friday was whether Montoya did anything improper in forcing Johnson – who had the strongest car in the field at the time – to jump ahead of Montoya to the restart line.

The leader – Montoya in this case -- must be the first car across the line, according to NASCAR rules.

Montoya appeared to slow down as the cars came down the front stretch, forcing Johnson ahead as they went past the line.

“It’s up to everybody else to follow the leader’s pace,” said Montoya, who would eventually be passed by Tony Stewart and finish second. “He wanted to time it. He mistimed it. It’s all good.”

It is one of NASCAR’s unwritten rules that the leader on the restart can approach the restart line however he or she feels proper – within reason.

“The leader has that ability and that position to do that,” said Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s his job to lead you to the green, to get the best start he can. If he feels like somebody else is trying to take advantage of that or get a little bit of a run on him, he can play that card. I think Jimmie was on that edge of anticipation in getting all he could on the restart and Juan did a great job.”

“But it’s also at the discretion of NASCAR making a judgment call.”

Gordon compared Montoya’s late slow-down to an NBA player who “flops” to draw a foul.

“That was as good of a flop as it gets,” said Gordon.

But it’s all part of the game.

“(The leader) has earned the spot,” said driver Carl Edwards, who will start Sunday’s race on the front row with Johnson. “You get to mess around a little bit. That’s part of being the leader. The whole job is to make it as harder on the other guy as (long) as it’s within the rules.

“There are some things that can happen and, depending on what car you’re in, they can seem right or wrong.”

Johnson said he would spend part of the rainy Friday at the track in rural Pennsylvania meeting with NASCAR officials to clarify what happened.

“I think with the data and technology we have today, we have the tools to make a better decision at that time,” Johnson said. “I kind of get it; but from the restart zone to the start-finish line, if a guy breaks or has trouble, NASCAR has the ability to make the call and say they had trouble and it’s fine to go?

“If someone flops, what then?”

Montoya, who had no sympathy for Johnson, was asked what might happen if the two are in a similar position – but with spots swapped and Johnson the leader – late in Sunday’s race at Pocono.

Montoya – who has two career NASCAR victories to Johnson’s 62 -- laughed.

“I’m going to beat him by 10 car lengths,” he said.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14