Montoya feels for Stewart, focuses on Glen
August 06, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Colombian driver aims for last-ditch Chase Wild-Card bid
Juan Pablo Montoya addressed the media in two languages Tuesday morning, but one universal truth spoken partly in English and in his native Spanish tongue stood out, even to the untrained ear.
“Timing es todo.”
True enough, timing has been everything for Montoya’s up-and-down season, but the same could also rings true for Tony Stewart, who will miss Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) with a broken leg, suffered in a sprint car crash Monday night at an Iowa dirt track.
Montoya joined the NASCAR community on Twitter on Tuesday morning in sending well wishes to the three-time Sprint Cup Series champ, who -- like Montoya -- ranked as a pre-race favorite this weekend at the Watkins Glen International road course. But the Colombian, who has driven all sorts of vehicles in his racing career before finding a home with NASCAR, also noted that despite the hazards, racing at grass-roots levels is in Stewart’s blood.
“Well, that's just Tony,” Montoya said during NASCAR’s weekly teleconference. “I talk to Tony sometimes, and this year he was so excited he was going to go over 100 races in a year. It's like for him, making 100 races in a year was a big deal. And you don't see the dangers. You don't think it's dangerous, but there's always a risk factor, you know what I mean? It's racing. There's nothing you can do.”
Stewart and Montoya each had seasons that got off to sluggish starts, but the two ran 1-2 in the June 2 race at Dover International Speedway after Stewart chased down Montoya to take the lead with three laps left for his first win of the year.
From there, Stewart’s season took off as he moved from 20th to 10th in the Sprint Cup standings in a span of three races; he’s remained in the Chase Wild-Card hunt ever since. For Montoya, his runner-up finish at the Monster Mile seemed to indicate momentum, two weeks removed from an eighth place at Darlington and four weeks after a near-win at Richmond.
The momentum didn’t materialize, and Montoya has just one top-10 finish (a ninth at Indianapolis) in the eight races since Dover to show for it. He ranks 23rd in points with five races left in the regular season, meaning to contend for a Wild-Card berth he’ll need at least one victory and some positive results to move into the 11th-20th eligibility range in points.
With his extensive background in road racing for this weekend and what he sees as a favorable lie with the five races ahead; Montoya says he has at least a puncher’s chance.
“There is a lot of really good races coming that we've been very close to winning this year that going there we know we have a chance,” Montoya said. “And you know, we know we're throwing a lot of points away. We ran out of gas with one lap to go at Sonoma, for example, running second, and we converted a second‑place finish into a 36th‑place finish. We can't do that. Like same thing this week (at Pocono), I made a mistake, we had loose tires in the pits, we had a gearbox fail. Everything freak that could happen has been happening, so it makes it a little hard.”
Montoya, like fellow road-racing specialist Marcos Ambrose, has two career Sprint Cup wins, both coming on road courses. Ambrose has won the last two races at Watkins Glen; Montoya has one win on each road circuit that hosts the series -- the Glen (2010) and Sonoma Raceway (2007).
It’s an interesting mix that leaves Montoya confident he can cash in at Watkins Glen, yet hopeful that he can gain ground on the ovals that account for 34 of the 36 points-paying races on the Sprint Cup schedule.
“It's not that we're not trying. I've been very close (on ovals), a lot of opportunities, we've thrown them away. We've found ways to screw them up. But to tell you the truth, as a team we keep our head up and we keep fighting, and believe me, we believe we have a chance. We really, really believe that we have a good chance.
“We've just got to make sure ‑‑ the way we do it, like probably Marcos and myself, the only thing we need to do at the Glen to have a chance of winning is not screw up. Yeah, honestly. If we have 10 pit stops, we're in the top three. I'll guarantee you we're in the top three. Worst-case scenario we're fourth. If we run out of brakes, we'll finish fifth.”