Montoya stays optimistic

by Monte Dutton

Juan Pablo Montoya began competing regularly in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series in 2007. He was named Rookie of the Year, which came as no surprise since Montoya is one of the racing world’s more recognizable names, not to mention one of its prodigious talents.

Yet Montoya — who won the CART championship in 1999 as a rookie, won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 and the Grand Prix of Monaco in 2003 — has yet to blossom into full-fledge stock-car stardom.

Montoya, who just turned 36, is the first foreign-born driver to win more than once in Cup competition. Both his victories have occurred on road courses. He made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2009.

Entering the rain-delayed Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Montoya, who is from Bogota, Colombia, but now lives in Miami, ranked 18th in the point standings. It’s been a dreary season not just for Montoya, but for his team, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Montoya’s teammate, Jamie McMurray, had slumped to 25th entering the Chicagoland race.

“I think the No. 1 car [McMurray] has been having a really rough season, and they have been trying to change things around, and it hasn’t really come to them,” Montoya said. “They have had a couple of decent results, but overall it has been a really hard season for them.

“For us, we have been up and down. We can get a Top 5 [finish] here and there, and fight for a win there, and then run 30 th . It is something… we need to understand why it is, and lately it has been getting harder and harder. I think our cars need to get better. We looked at some numbers and stuff, and there is some work to be done. It is going to be interesting.”

If Montoya is growing weary of struggling, he hasn’t admitted it. He insists he is happy with the principal owner, Chip Ganassi.

“He’s a good guy to work for,” Montoya said. “Like everybody else, he’s got his good days, and really bad days.

“You’ve got to make sure, when you talk to him, you’ve got him on a good day.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘© 2011 King Features Syndicate