By JOHN MARSHALL, Associated Press
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Driving under caution at the Daytona 500, Juan Pablo Montoya felt the back end of his car break, sending it into a spin. Unable to stop and bearing down on a safety truck, he didn't panic.
He treated it like going over a speed bump a little too fast.
"You don't think 'oh my God, I'm going to kill myself,'" he said Friday while recalling the accident. "You go 'oh, this is going to hurt a little bit.' It wasn't that bad."
It could have been much worse.
Trying to catch up to the field during a caution, Montoya slammed into the back of a jet dryer when his car broke late in the race. His car burst into flames and jet fuel from the dryer spilled onto the track and ignited, creating a fireball that damaged the track and delayed the race.
Although the driver of the jet dryer was OK, officials at several tracks said they will mandate fire suits and helmets for all jet dryer drivers, including this weekend at Phoenix.
"I'm really glad to see they are already taking measures," said Jeff Gordon, who went out with engine trouble at Daytona. "I couldn't believe that guy got out of the truck without a helmet and a fire suit on. Don't know what kind of harness he had on, but trying to take measure to make that aspect of it safer will be a good thing."
Four days after the bizarre wreck, Montoya was relaxed and poked fun at the mess he made.
Montoya's left foot, bruised when it hit the clutch upon impact, is sore but good to go for this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
His psyche after one of the strangest crashes ever in NASCAR? Didn't even put a dent in it.
"The way I've always looked at it, 'Either you're going to be OK or you're not,'" he said. "I don't think anyone could hit anything harder than I did."
Montoya's did-that-just-happen crash came during a caution with 40 laps to go in Monday night's race.
He had just gone into the pits to have a vibration checked out. Coming down the straightaway, sparks flew from the back of the car after one of the trailing arms — a suspension piece connected to the rear end housing — broke and the other one followed.
Montoya's car went into a spin and burst into flames upon impact, which created a massive hole in the jet dryer, sending jet fuel onto the track and him scrambling from his car.
"It was a little flames for a second (inside the car), but it wasn't much. It didn't even get hot," Montoya said. "I saw the flames everywhere and said, 'I better get out of this fast'."
The impact of the crash made it look like the engine in Montoya's No. 42 Chevrolet was gone, but he and crew chief Chris Heroy said it was still inside the car, just barely. After seeing all the damage, Montoya knows it could have been a lot worse.
"It's kind of interesting a week later, or five days later, and you're looking back on that," he said. "There's actually a shot that shows the impact and I'm pretty lucky, to be honest."
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