MONTOYA HOPES TO FINISH DEAL IN BRICKYARD 400
By Steve Ballard with Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya returns this weekend to Indianapolis Motor Speedway , scene of the greatest triumph and arguably the two greatest disappointments of his racing career.
Montoya, 35, is in his fifth full season in NASCAR after leaving Formula One to join Chip Ganassi's Sprint Cup operation. In 164 starts, the Colombian has two wins, both on road courses, with a best finish of eighth in the standings in 2009.
The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, when he led 167 of 200 laps, and 1999 CART champion could easily be a two-time Brickyard 400 winner. He has dominated the race each of the past two years but was unable to close the deal either time.
In 2010, he was leading on lap 138 when he pitted under caution. His team opted to change four tires while the other leaders took two, and he restarted seventh. On lap 146, in his haste to get back to the front, he hit the turn-four wall. He finished 32nd despite leading 86 of the 160 laps.
In 2009, he had more than a five-second lead when he pitted with 26 laps to go. He was caught speeding on pit road and assessed a drive-through penalty. He finished 11th despite leading 116 laps.
Montoya talked about those misfortunes, his season and career, and his thoughts on the $5 million Izod IndyCar Series season finale in Las Vegas in a conversation with Star assistant sports editor Steve Ballard:
Question: You're 17th in the standings and probably need a win to secure your spot in the Chase. And now you have to adjust to a new crew chief as Jim Pohlman is taking over for Brian Pattie. How do you assess your season to this point?
Answer: We started really strong, then May came along and we lost a ton of points. We're just fighting with the car too often. Sometimes I don't understand why it does the stuff it does.
Q: With Indy coming up and a few weeks later Watkins Glen, where you're the defending champion, are you still optimistic about what you can accomplish this season?
A: We're in a decent points position, but with the new Chase (format), we need to win a few races. There's a big group of people, positions seven through 14 or 15, who are saying they can still make this thing. When you try to make up a bunch of points at the end, you usually lose more than you gain.
Q: You have been good at Indy, in any kind of car, right from the start. What is it about that place that seems to suit you so well?
A: I don't know why I do well there, I just do. Even my first Cup race there I ran well. Every time I go there, it's like, "This place is awkward," but I still run fast so I don't mind.
Q: You could easily be coming to Indy this year as the two-time defending champion. How tough has it been to accept letting those two races slip away?
A: It's frustrating the way they worked out, but at the same time, we ran good and I'd rather (be doing) that than run 25th all day. One was a supposed speeding violation and the other was a wrong call (in the pits). But it's not about blaming people, it's about getting the job done. I feel good to go back there. I know I'll have a pretty good car, and that helps.
Q: How are negotiations going on a contract extension with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?
A: It's pretty much set. I guess that's the best way of putting it.
Q: So you'll be back in the No. 42 car next year?
Q: You're closing in on having 400,000 followers on Twitter. What is it about tweeting that appeals to you?
A: It's good for the fans to know you a little bit. You can show them exactly what you do, and it takes five minutes of your day. I think it's pretty cool.
Q: Do you have a large Hispanic following?
A: I get a lot more responses in English. I did open-wheel here in the U.S., I did Formula One here, now NASCAR. Why I get so many (followers), I don't know. I guess people like what I do. It shows that everything I've done in my career meant something.
Q: Do you miss open-wheel racing at all? Ever had any second thoughts about changing careers?
A: Not really. Somebody asked me the other day to compare driving an open-wheel car at Indy to a stock car. The last time I drove an Indy car there was 11 years ago. So get over it. I did.
Q: I'm sure you're aware of the $5 million IndyCar is offering to a driver from outside the series who can win the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If you don't qualify for the Chase, would you consider it?
A: I don't think so. The price for winning it is great, but if you don't, it's going to cost you money. You'd have to go to Indy two or three times for seat fittings. You'd have to test. I ran the numbers, and with the amount of money you would have to spend, the incentive is just not there.
Q: If you were to do it, do you think you could win the race?
A: Would I have a chance at winning? I'd say I would, probably. It could be done, but it would be tough beating the guys who do it every week, guys like Dario (Franchitti) and Scott (Dixon). If I had never done it over there, maybe (I would be interested). But my first season, I won seven races there. So it's one of those deals, been there and done that. And I know how fast Vegas is. So thank you, but no thank you. I'll pass.