South Florida’s Montoya: Momentum En Route to Miami

Montoya secured his first race win of the 2010 season

South Florida's Juan Pablo Montoya got the second victory of his career, and first of the season after numerous close calls in the road to Ford Championship Weekend. (Courtesy Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images Sport)

South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series of 2010 in Race 22 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). With his win at Watkins Glen, Montoya climbed two spots in the Sprint Cup Series Championship standings to 19th.

"I think it's a big relief for everyone," said the former open-wheel star of notching his second career Sprint Cup win.

The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 (Sept. 11 at Richmond) qualify to contend for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 21. Lock in your tickets NOW to see Championship racing at Championship value: Tickets start at just $55 and are available by calling (866) 409-RACE or by logging on to THEChampionshipTrack.com.

Montoya was the class of the field in yet another 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, but this time he made it stand up. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet rebounded from disappointment at Pocono and Indy, when he qualified on the pole and led the most laps only to crash late in the race. Montoya has started all 22 of this year’s Sprint Cup races but has fallen victim to an inordinate amount of engine woes and on-track tangling—finishing in the Top 10 of all but three 2010 races in which he has completed all scheduled laps. Included in that run for South Florida’s hometown’er are five Top 5s.

"We executed right," Montoya said. "I think we did what we had to do all day. We ran really smart."

Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch—who entered Race 22 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21) seventh in the standings—finished 4.735 seconds behind Montoya and jumped to the fourth spot in the points race.

Last week at Pocono, it was Busch battling four-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson for position with just 36 laps remaining when the No. 48 attempted to bump draft Busch from behind. Johnson’s nudge spun Busch off the track and careening into the infield grass, where the No. 2 bounced off a barrier and tore the front wheels off the Dodge. The verbal sparks flew post-race, but this time around the elder Busch was impressed by his competition.

"The way he drives road courses, there's always something to learn and there's always something to pick up," Busch said of Montoya. "The way he's matured over the years, to his first win at Sonoma [where] they won a big fuel mileage game…..

"Today, he just had raw speed. What I told him in Victory Lane was that I was real proud of the way he raced [Marcos] Ambrose. He raced him smart, didn't race over his head."

Montoya's last win came in June 2007 at Infineon—a stretch of 113 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races since his last trip checkered flag. Having run so many races so well only to wreck late, Montoya’s winless drought certainly could have ended earlier.

"The last few weeks have been really frustrating for the whole team because we've been so close to victory, and it seemed to keep slipping away," Montoya said.

During the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis—Race 20 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21)—a strategy call by Brian Pattie, Montoya's somewhat-embattled crew chief, spelled the end to a dominant performance. Montoya ended up in 32nd place despite leading a race-high 86 laps.

"The Brickyard two weeks ago was my fault, and hopefully this makes up for it a little bit," Pattie said.

Montoya again was among the leaders again in Race 21 at Pocono when Pattie made a call for a four-tire pit stop late in that race. Again the move didn't work out, and Montoya finished 16th—leading to an unpleasant exchange between driver and crew chief on the team's radio.

"It was a misunderstanding on the radio, on the call," Montoya said. "That was it. I think I went too far with it. That was it. I apologized for it."

With all the misfortune, it’s been a tough 2010 season for the South Florida resident after he in 2009 became the first non-American born driver ever to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase  “playoffs”. This year, Montoya sits 19th in the points standings with just four races remaining before the 2010 Chase field is set.

The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 (Sept. 11 at Richmond) qualify to contend for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship that will be crowned in Miami on Nov. 21. Lock in your tickets NOW to see Championship racing at Championship value, as tickets start at just $55. For the best seats, call (866) 409-RACE or log on to THEChampionshipTrack.com.

In recapping his 2010 season, Montoya said: "It’s about bringing the car home [to earn as many points as possible]….We had a blown motor in Race 2. Race 3, [I was] taken out by a teammate; I don't think it was on purpose, but we tangle. All of a sudden, you know, by Race 5 we had three ‘Did Not Finishes.’”

Fast forward to Race 22 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21), and Montoya held the lead four times for 74 of the 90 laps and drove away from everyone during the final 28.

During the post-race news conference, Montoya smiled and even playfully tapped Pattie after he made a comment about how reporters still probably will hear some not-so-nice words over the team's radio.

"But maybe not as much," Montoya said.

Next up for Montoya and the Sprint Cup drivers is Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, Aug. 15 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN-TV, MRN Radio)—Race 23 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Just four races remain before the Richmond (Sept. 11) cut-off for NASCAR’s best to gain points and qualify for Chase contention.

For tickets and more information to see Montoya race for a Ford 400 victory on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway, visit THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE. Lock in NOW to catch Championship racing at Championship value, as tickets start at just $55.

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