News & Media


Montoya 'needs a win' -- NHMS could be the place

July 16, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- Juan Montoya doesn't have to work hard to muster a smile when he contemplates racing Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

All you have to know is NHMS is a relatively flat speedway. Montoya's record speaks for itself, and he was happy to refer to it after he left his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, following Happy Hour.

New Hampshire Speeds

Practice 2
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.C.Bowyer 129.156 29.490
3.Keselowski 129.151 29.491
4.J. Gordon 128.976 29.531
5.M. Truex Jr. 128.972 29.532
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. J. Montoya 129.292 29.459
3.R. Newman 129.278 29.462
4.J. Burton 129.169 29.487
5.Keselowski 129.156 29.490

"I'll tell you the truth, in Indy cars it was the same way," Montoya said, smiling at the memory. "I could run really good when the tracks were flat, like Nazareth and St. Louis [Gateway International Raceway]. I could run really strong."

Indeed, Montoya won CART events at both those tracks, plus The Milwaukee Mile, whose turns are banked 9.25 degrees compared to New Hampshire's 7 degrees.

Montoya, who turned 40 laps in final practice, was atop the chart for more than 30 of them, before three-time NHMS winner Jimmie Johnson edged ahead of him in the last 15 minutes. The pair ended up 1-2 on the time sheet, with Johnson just .06 seconds better than Montoya after running 59 laps.

The most daunting fact for the competition is that Johnson had the second-best average lap, 29.83 seconds -- just .02 seconds behind that of Jeff Burton, who occupied the fourth spot on the Happy Hour speed chart. Sunday's pole winner, Ryan Newman, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.

Happy Hour was a big improvement for Montoya, who was only 18th in Saturday's first practice, after running 27 laps. Tony Stewart was fastest in that session, over NHMS's most recent winner, Clint Bowyer, and Keselowski.

"I'm happy because we improved the car [Saturday], from the first practice to the second practice," Montoya said. "I think we still need a little bit of pace, but."

Montoya hesitated a moment, but never stopped his purposeful stride toward his cart, which was taking him to change out of his driving uniform and into his golfing clothes for an early afternoon tee time.

"I think we just, you know, you just -- I wanna win so freakin' bad," he finally said. "It's hard."

The strain comes from Montoya coming into Sunday's event 13th in the standings, 32 points out of the critical 10th-place spot that guarantees a position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. At this point, with eight races left before the Chase cutoff, a win also would -- at least temporarily -- put Montoya in the Chase, as the top two winners in the standings who also are in the overall top 20, also make the 12-man Chase field.

Montoya wouldn't go so far as to predict a win -- or even his percentage chance of one -- in the next four races, which include three basically flat tracks: New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Pocono; and then the Watkins Glen road course, where he has won.

"You look at the worst-case scenario," Montoya said. "If we're smart we can score a lot of points, and put ourselves in a really good position, either way. That's the way I look at it."

Don't think for a minute a flat oval -- even one as idiosyncratic as Nazareth was -- can relate at all to a road course, where Montoya obviously excelled in his open-wheel career and where he's won twice in Cup cars. Montoya did stop walking then, and burst into laughter.

"I wish," he said, still laughing. "Is that a good answer?"

A few minutes later, his crew chief, Brian Pattie, also was smiling. Pattie stood behind his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing hauler, as he also looked ahead to hitting the links Saturday afternoon. But his grin was also linked to Montoya's performance this weekend, which includes an eighth-place start Sunday.

"Even in the past, back when we had three cars, with Reed Sorenson and Dario [Franchitti], we always ran well here, for some reason," Pattie said. "Back when we were Dodges we ran good here and we [switched] to Chevrolets and ran even better. I'd like to have some of this magic some other places -- the mile-and-a-halfs to be exact. It would be nice to be this fast, everywhere."

But it's a fact this weekend, and both men are enjoying the moment.

"I'll tell you the truth, in Indy cars it was the same way. I could run really good when the tracks were flat."

--JUAN MONTOYA

"If a driver likes a place, he's more calm and he understands what he needs a little better," Pattie said. "And at tracks that [Montoya] likes, he runs better. At places where you're running bad, you get frustrated and communication breaks down and it gets worse from there. It's a death spiral that we don't like to talk about, but it happens in this sport."

Something akin to that happened in 2009 at Indy, where Montoya dominated before speeding on pit road, then crashing out of the race. Six weeks later, Montoya dominated again at New Hampshire where he had a car both he and Pattie said was similar to this weekend's, before finishing third.

"We've got a better short-run car, yeah," Pattie said, trying to anticipate what the end game of Sunday's race might be. "But if we can gap the field good enough, it's similar to the car we had in '09. It runs good for the first 20, 30 laps and if the race plays out where it's a short-run race, we'll be fine.

"If it plays out to be four green-flag stints [caution-free], we should still finish top 10 -- we just won't have a chance to win."

"I think we're always better here on the shorter runs than the longer runs," Montoya said. "But we were making a lot of changes, so it was hard to tell. I think we're OK. We're not the fastest car out there, but we're pretty decent."

Montoya's average lap over the 40 he turned tied him for 10th on the Happy Hour chart, with Bowyer. His first run left him fifth-best on a 10-lap run chart from Happy Hour, behind Johnson, Burton, former NHMS winner Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon.

Neither Saturday Cup practice was marred by a caution.