MONTOYA LIKES DIRECTION OF TEAM WITH HEROY
Juan Pablo Montoya likes direction of team with former Hendrick engineer Chris Heroy as new crew chief
By Kenny Bruce
The house was crowded and the opportunity too good to pass up, said Chris Heroy.
So the former Hendrick Motorsports engineer now finds himself settled in at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as crew chief for Juan Pablo Montoya and one of several new hires faced with the daunting task of turning around a program that stumbled mightily in 2011.
“The hardest part about leaving Hendrick was the people and the relationships I had built over the seven years I was there,” said Heroy, who has a total of three starts under his belt as crew chief, all in the Nationwide Series. “But I view Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as a championship organization. Growing up with an open-wheel background, I watched the [Ganassi] guys win everything.”
With Chad Knaus, Alan Gustafson, Steve Letarte and Kenny Francis calling the shots for Hendrick’s four drivers, Heroy knew his chances at becoming a Cup crew chief with that particular organization likely wouldn’t surface anytime soon.
His brief stint atop the box came with JR Motorsports, the Nationwide Series team founded by Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and produced solid results – Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth at Daytona and third at Bristol last year while Jimmie Johnson scored a runnerup finish with the team at Watkins Glen.
His arrival was one of several personnel moves made by Earnhardt Ganassi officials during the offseason, following finishes of 21st and 27th, respectively, by Montoya and teammate Jamie McMurray.
“It was a no-brainer for me in terms of organizations,” Heroy said. “It was hard to leave but it was exciting, too.”
For Montoya, 36, a 2011 season that began with a bit of promise – he was fourth in points after three races and posted four top-10s in his first six starts – quickly soured. He finished the year with just eight top-10s and his points finish was his worst since 2008.
“[Starting strong] does help, but it doesn’t matter – you still have to run the whole season,” Montoya said.
“We went to Chip [to voice our concerns] because we wanted to run better, but Chip knew that. He wins in every other series, comes to NASCAR and finishes 21st and 27th in points. With the sponsors we have and the potential we have, that’s not really acceptable to run that bad.”
A year ago, Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie were beginning their fourth season together. After 19 races, however, Pattie was gone and Jim Pohlman was handed the role of interim crew chief.
Heroy, Montoya said, has already done a “great job” in preparing the team’s 2012 effort. And he said he likes the direction he sees the team headed in – a stark contrast from 2011.
“I think we got the right people,” said Montoya, who made the Chase in 2009 and has two career Cup wins. “I know it’s early but you can see the changes. There is a direction we are going. The team is heading somewhere. That is good.”
Last year, he said, “it was like, ‘What are we doing?’
“There were a lot of long faces and no answers. Right now you can ask and ‘we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re going here, we’re trying this, trying that. We’re building the cars this way and we’re going here.’ I was like ‘wow.’
“It’s exciting. There is a direction and there’s so much potential.”
Heroy said his biggest concern is “doing it right.” Accomplish that, he said, and the rest will take care of itself.
“I want solid pit stops, solid communication, solid engineering,” he said. “And I really think the results will speak for themselves.
“One thing I really enjoy about Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is its commitment to get better, the freedom and the speed that that provides. We can make changes [to the cars] incredibly quickly. It’s an open book [between the two teams].”
And, he said, he’s looking forward to working with Montoya, a former open-wheel standout who has transitioned to NASCAR a bit slower than some anticipated, especially on oval tracks.
“I encourage his passion, it’s one of the big reasons I signed up to work with him,” Heroy said. “I think the key is good team consistency behind the pit wall, on pit road with the cars. That will provide him with the structure to go forward and drive as hard as he wants.
“Things always happen; you’re going to get into a wreck, get into somebody. That accident management is something we talk about, good points days and all that. But when you’ve got good speed in the car and are solid behind pit wall, good points days make themselves.”
Montoya, he said, “is committed.”
“He just wants to go fast,” Heroy said, “and he’s very passionate about what he does.”http://www.scenedaily.com