CUP: Daytona Win Would Put Montoya In Select Company
Mike Hembree, SPEED TV
Juan Pablo Montoya seems to be able to win at anything that involves four wheels and an engine.
One of the most versatile drivers in auto racing history, Montoya owns victories in the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, two of the world’s most spotlighted races, and in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, one of its longest.
He has won in Formula One, CART, IndyCar and Grand-Am racing and scored in his first full season in Sprint Cup (2007) after shocking the international motorsports world by detouring from F1 to a whole new world of racing in bulky stock cars.
Although Montoya’s NASCAR run hasn’t been as successful as he and team owner Chip Ganassi might have hoped, he has impressed long-time stock-car racing observers by how quickly he learned the ins and outs of Sprint Cup and how his car control didn’t seem to falter despite a radical change in vehicles.
Montoya, 35, approaches his fifth full season in Sprint Cup with a pair of wins – at Sonoma in 2007 and at Watkins Glen last year – and could put an attention-grabbing cap on his career with a victory in next month’s Daytona 500. A triumph in stock car racing’s marquee event would give him wins in several of the world’s most important motorsports events and solidify his stature as a brilliant wheelman in a range of venues and styles.
“It would be pretty cool,” Montoya said of stepping into Daytona’s victory lane. “I’ve won all the big races except that one. I’m pretty good on restrictor plates and our cars are pretty good.”
Indeed, Montoya seemed to adapt to the intricacies of restrictor-plate racing with ease, racing at or near the front of huge drafting packs at Daytona and Talladega in his first season.
In eight races at Daytona, Montoya has two top 10s. At Talladega, he has finished in the top five three times in eight races.
In all likelihood, he’ll have a capable car when teams gather for Daytona 500 activities next month. Jamie McMurray, his teammate, scored in the 500 last year.
Montoya says he’s optimistic about his chances.
“Jamie won last year, and, at Talladega, I’ve had so many chances at winning those races,” he said. “It’s matter of giving yourself a chance. That’s all I ask for.”
The road to that chance will begin Thursday in the first of three days of preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway.