Montoya aims to finish NASCAR tenure on up note
September 20, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
LOUDON, N.H. -- Juan Pablo Montoya's tenure as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver may quickly be coming to a close, but don't expect that to impact how he'll handle his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Or at any of the remaining races, for that matter.
For Montoya, who will be departing NASCAR to return to his roots in the IndyCar Series driving for Team Penske, nothing changes.
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target car, arrives for a Gillette shave-off with his pit crew at the NASCAR Sprint Cup at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 22, 2013.
"I think I'm going to approach (the next nine races) the same way," he said Friday. "I think making the announcement doesn't change anything on the way I've been driving the car; I drive the car always as hard as I can."
The move comes on the heels of EGR announcing late last month that 21-year-old NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate Kyle Larson would helm the No. 42 Chevy next season, leaving Montoya without a ride. With his future up in the air, the Bogota, Colombia native fielded calls regarding opportunities across the globe, finally accepting an offer from Roger Penske on Monday.
"It was a no-brainer to run for Roger, absolutely. By his trade, he runs the biggest and most successful team in the U.S., probably the world. To be able to run for that organization is something else," Montoya said. "The first conversation was me. We had a lot of casual conversations, to put it that way. When it got serious, it only took a day (to get a deal done)."
Now that his fate is sealed for next season, it opens up the discussion of how to view Montoya's seven-year stint as a full-time Cup driver. Speed never seemed to be an issue for him -- after learning the ropes his first two seasons, Montoya's career-high 18 top-10 finishes in 2009 led to his first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth. At age 33 and enough experience under his belt to know his way around a stock car, by all means the momentum gained from that season should have carried him to even more success -- but it didn't, for various reasons.
"This year, we had the speed to make the Chase easily, but when you're running second, for example, at Sonoma and you run out of gas and you finish 36th? Come on. When you go Talladega and your car doesn't start after the rain delay. When you end up with the shifter in your hand in California or when the fuel pump goes. Just mechanical issues, that's four," said Montoya, who missed the Chase again this year after coming out of Richmond in 19th place.
"It's funny. From where we were in points before the Chase, if we had 100 more points, we're like sixth in points. You know you're going to have problems and we're going to have (races like) Pocono when I screw up and you're going to have your mistakes here or there but we just had so many that it's like, really? Can we just stop bleeding? I mean, honestly. It was hard."
Juan Pablo Montoya gets smooth shaven at a Gillette shave-off at the NASCAR Sprint Cup on September 22, 2013.
After the announcement was made Monday, Montoya noted that he's gotten a lot of support through texts and calls, but mostly from his friends in IndyCar. Still, his contributions to NASCAR weren't at all disregarded by his Cup Series colleagues and a pair of former champions are excited to see what he can accomplish next season.
"Being here in these types of cars and the struggles that you have in these types of cars with lack of grip, all the different tracks, how competitive it is among the cars and teams that are out there -- (I'm anxious to see) how that experience is either going to enhance or hinder him going back to the IndyCar Series," said Jeff Gordon during his media availability Friday. "One thing that's always been true -- still is -- for Juan, he's a fantastic race car driver."
Gordon's teammate and five-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson agreed.
"It's only been a couple times, but I've had a chance to see him on a high-downforce car and on a road course, which would be in the Grand-Am series and my opinions and ability to race with him and his car knowledge of a stock car is one thing. You go to a lighter downforce car on a road course in general and watch Juan do his thing, I mean he blisters everybody."
While a return to IndyCar certainly seemed like a natural direction for Montoya to take once the writing was on the wall with Larson, jumping into another Cup ride wasn't ruled out. He considered opportunities from several organizations and was actually pretty deep into contract talks to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy after the 2004 champion moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but talks were tabled once Penske came calling.
"There were a few offers here, there were a few offers in Europe, really everywhere. It was fun to see how much interest there was around, but when you have an offer to race for Roger Penske, I mean, you can't turn that down."
The door is certainly not closed for a potential return for Montoya to Sprint Cup Series racing, especially if he only ran a pair of races a year on the road courses where his two career wins came (Sonoma 2007, Watkins Glen 2010). But one thing's for sure, no matter what kind of car he's in beyond 2014, Montoya will always be an aggressive, hard-nosed, full-force driver.
"I just don't know how to drive the car any other way. I drive the hell out of it and that's it. That's what I've always done."