Juan Pablo Montoya scored his best oval result in NASCAR on Sunday, coming second to Tony Stewart in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, his eighth race at Indy but his first in a stock car at the 2.5-mile oval.
The Colombian started the race from the front row beside teammate Reed Sorenson, ran comfortably in the top five for most of the distance, and closed on the leaders in the last few laps, overtaking Jeff Gordon with 18 laps remaining and taking second from Kevin Harvick with only three laps to go.
"At the start of it I was just happy to run and stay in the top-five and try to maybe make the car better," Montoya said.
"We did a little bit of tyre pressure and track bar changes. We put a hell of a lot of track bar in the car today and couldn't get it to free up. The only time it was free was when I stopped when it was under green."
Montoya was lucky to survive a puncture on his left front when he was just about to pit for the last time under green on lap 128. Although he lost a couple of spots due to the tyre blowing up, he was able to get those positions back on the track.
The former Indy 500 winner was hoping his rivals would pit when the last caution flag of the day came out with 23 laps remaining. He was planning to stay on the track if the leaders pitted, but in the end none of them did.
"They told me 'If everybody pits we're going to stay out.' And I said 'Yeah, but to be honest, the 20 (Stewart's car) is too fast. Even if he pits he's still going to come out and beat us.' And they stayed out but I don't think anybody had anything for Tony today."
Montoya was excited to be able to overtake while battling at the front, something he said he had been unable to do before.
"It's exciting. I tell you, I'm happy. It's the first actual race that I could pass. Normally I get to like 12th and you start to try to get runs on people and you can't and today it was something. I could really go at it."
The Colombian admitted that the nature of the track, which has little banking and four 90-degree corners instead of two of 180 degrees, might have helped him to be quick all weekend.
"The track, to learn, is pretty simple," he said. "I found it pretty simple when I came here the first time. It's a very different oval but it's a mixture of an oval and a road course. I like it.
"It's funny because I was telling my crew chief most of the times when we have problems is just past the center of a normal oval corner and here, just past the center, you're out of the corner. I think it worked pretty good."
Montoya's second place in the race has moved him up two places in the championship and has him now 200 points away from the 12th place in the standings. He was 304 off before this weekend, which makes him think that making the Chase is still possible.
"I tell you the truth, if you could get this type of finish for the next three races then you have a chance," he said.
"If you go next weekend and you have an average weekend then you're out. It doesn't mean that we're going to give up. I think we're going to go more forward to try to get wins than get into the Chase."
Montoya will be testing this week at VIR with the Car of Tomorrow in preparation for the second and last road-course event of the year for the Nextel Cup, which takes place in two weeks at Watkins Glen. He won his first Cup race in a road-course last month at Sonoma, California.