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NASCAR SUNDAY: Martin grabs 5th win of season in Chase opener

LOUDON, N.H. - Through three years in NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya had exactly zero experience lining up for a double-file restart with a win on the line.

Given his chance Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Montoya got beat by the best in the business.

Martin beat Montoya on a three-lap sprint to the finish Sunday to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener and spoil what could have been a blockbuster 34th birthday for Montoya.

Instead, he was left wondering if Martin's move was a dirty trick or if Montoya simply didn't have the experience to know what was coming on that final restart. Martin slowed in front of Montoya at the start of the second lap, causing Montoya to roll out of the gas and lose any momentum needed to win the race.

"I didn't expect that," Montoya said. "I was expecting him to run pretty hard. He just ran very defensively, and I just got caught by surprise. I think if I would have been prepared I probably would have jumped to the outside.

"You've got to learn from it. I haven't fought for enough wins."

His first reaction was that it was dirty racing, and he radioed to his crew that it was "not cool at all."

But Martin, the most respected driver in NASCAR, insisted the move was within bounds.

"I fought for that race," Martin said. "But I wouldn't do anything. I still won't."

The move might be debated, but it won't change the record books: Martin won his Sprint Cup Series-best fifth race of the season and extended his lead in the standings to 35 points over runner-up Denny Hamlin and three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

"Pinch me. I am sure I'm sleeping. I am sure I am dreaming," Martin said.

Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson used mid-race pit strategy to get the No. 5 into contention. He didn't bring Martin in for a pit stop under yellow that was outside their fuel window, knowing they'd get a chance to stop later in the race.

It put Martin out front at the end, and after leading a race-high 105 laps, Montoya had to chase him down. The former Formula One star was making his 100th career start, won the pole in record-breaking speed and led every practice session to set the stage for just his second career Sprint Cup Series victory.

Instead, he found himself slicing through the field at the end of the race. He went from fifth to second on a restart with 13 laps to go, and was on the inside of Martin on the restart with three laps to go.

They battled door-to-door for the first lap, and Martin finally slid in front of Montoya as they crossed the start-finish line. They ran bumper-to-bumper through the first turn, and Martin appeared to slow just a bit as they headed for Turn 2.

Martin insisted he didn't stop, as Montoya claimed.

"My first instinct to answer that question would be, 'Yeah, I stopped - compared to how fast his car was going,'" Martin said. "I don't think I stopped, stopped. Maybe it looked to him like I stopped based on how fast he had been.

The race ended under caution when AJ Allmendinger spun on the frontstretch as the leaders began their final lap. NASCAR waited for Allmendinger to get his car off the track and was slow to throw the yellow flag because officials were hoping to let the finish play out.

Instead, Martin, Montoya and Hamlin closed quickly on Allmendinger's disabled vehicle, making for a chaotic final moment that could have led to wrecked cars.

Hamlin slipped past Montoya for second-place as the three cars split Allmendinger on the way to the finish line.

"I think they should have waited until they did to throw the yellow because it could have cleared itself, and then they wouldn't have spoiled the finish," Martin said, defending NASAR's delay in calling caution. "They do the best they can, and they're really strong and pro-fan."

Johnson finished fourth and was followed by Kyle Busch, who missed making the Chase by just eight points. Afterward, NASCAR said the left front of his car was too low in post-race inspection, and he could be penalized this week.

Kurt Busch was sixth and followed by Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, defending race winner Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer.

It was a decent day for almost all the Chase drivers, who need a strong race in the 10-race title hunt to set the pace for the championship battle. Since its 2004 inception, only one driver, Johnson in 2006, finished lower than sixth at New Hampshire and still won the title.

That's bad news for Kasey Kahne, who lost his motor early and finished 39th. He was posting to his Twitter account from his airplane about his crummy day as he prepared to head home before the halfway point of the race.

After just one race, Kahne is last in the 12-driver field and 161 points behind Martin.