NASCAR: Montoya, Here to Stay?

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Most non NASCAR fans would say that there is nothing particularly difficult about driving  a car that only needs to turn left and just goes round and round  in circles on a big oval track. But as fans of the sport we know that there is more to it than that. There are plenty of NASCAR fan experiences around where fans can have a go at driving round a track and see what it’s like trying to maintain speed and a fast line and how difficult it is, let alone when there are 42 other drivers around you trying to do the same.

Apr 5, 2013; Martinsville, VA, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya (42) during practice STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

However the best argument for the difficulty of the sport is from the drivers themselves and chief amongst those ‘cross over’ drivers is Juan Pablo Montoya.  He had a reasonably successful career in F1 finishing third in the drivers championship twice and taking seven wins in his 94 races. His short CART career was even more successful, not only winning the Indy 500 at his first attempt, alongside Rookie of the Year but also winning the Championship in his rookie year and becoming its youngest ever winner. He had clearly shown that he knew how to drive on oval circuits and how to win on them, but that still wasn’t enough preparation for a career in NASCAR.

Since coming to NASCAR at the end of the 2006 season, it is arguable that he has not lived up to expectations, in fact there has already been speculation that this maybe his last season in the series. However it should be pointed out that there has been no information either from team owner Chip Ganassi or from Montoya, except for a comment made last week in an interview where he said:

“I don’t know (about next year) – we’re good so far. I’m worried about what we’re doing right now to be honest.” he told Sporting News

In his first full season in 2007 he got his first win, which not surprisingly came on a ‘road circuit’ at Sonoma and went on to finish the year in a very respectable 20th place. It wasn’t until his third full season in 2009 that it appeared that he had finally begun to master the art of NASCAR although he didn’t get any wins he took his first ever pole position and appeared to learn how to be consistent with 18 top 10 finishes. This led to him making the Chase (becoming the first ever foreign born driver to do so) and finishing 8th overall. Unfortunately for 42 fans, of which I count myself as one, that season has turned out to be a one-off. While he was able to get a win the following season he finished a poor 17th in the Championship and since then his results have steadily got worse finishing 21st and 22nd at the end of the last two seasons.

This season is no better and is in fact continuing the trend of being worse than the last. Although granted we are only 8 races in and there is a long way to go. Currently he sits in 27th overall with an average finish of 26.4 a race and to emphasis how poor this is for a racer like Montoya he is currently two places behind Denny Hamlin who has missed the last two races through injury.

This lack of results must be very frustrating for him and the team. He is clearly a very talented driver, and knows how to negotiate an oval circuit, even last year he took pole at Pocono as well as Watkins Glen. I was very hopeful that he would be competitive this season after it was announced in November last year that the team would now be getting their engines from Hendrick Motorsport. Their engines being very high quality as can be clearly seen by the fantastic results that their drivers achieve seemingly every week. But yet Chris Heroy and the rest of the 42 team just do not seem to be able to make the change work for them. Despite the fact that Jamie McMurray in the sister team at EGR appears to be making the most of the new engine as he sits in a very impressive 11th place in the Cup standings.

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