Montoya manages his expectations

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:37 PM ET

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Juan Pablo Montoya will start his 155th NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Sunday in the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway without a win on any of the series’ 20 oval tracks.

His two Cup wins both came on the road courses at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

But the former Formula One, CART and Indianapolis 500 champion thinks he could break that oval drought at Bristol’s high-banked, .533-mile oval.

Montoya comes into the race in fourth place in the championship points after a third-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a sixth-place finish at the Daytona 500.

The only blemish in his record so far this season was his 19th-place finish at Phoenix.

It is that kind of momentum on the round tracks that has Montoya confident that his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team is on the comeback trail from a disappointing 2010 campaign when he finished 17th after making the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship in 2009.

“Last year was a big wake-up call for us,” Montoya said. “In 2009 we ran where we could run and we made the Chase and then last year by race five we had three DNFs (did not finish).”

It was a position from which Montoya and the EGR team could not recover and the harder they tried the worse, it seemed, that it got.

“When you look at it, you have put yourself in such a big hole, you never come out of it,” he said. “We were involved in a lot of wrecks that weren’t our fault. And when we were running (good) we tried things to get more points and we went from finishing fifth to 15th or 20th or even worse.”

Montoya said he is determined not to repeat those kind of mistakes that cost him so dearly last season.

“This year, we knew what we had to do and we are doing it,” he said. “We are running a little bit smarter and trying to make better choices.

“You know, in Phoenix we sucked really bad, we thought we made the right changes with the car, but we didn’t and we learned from it. As long as we keep learning from it and making ourselves better, that is all we can do.”

The change in the attitude, Montoya said, runs through the whole No. 42 team. He said part of that is everyone is pulling in the same direction and everyone coming to the race track with reasonable expectations.

“It’s been cool,” Montoya said. “You know we have been trying a lot of things to understand where we need to go with the cars and what to do and I think we are making a lot of progress and everybody is pumped and everybody is working hard to make sure we run good.”

The hurdle he must overcome is getting out of Bristol without taking a big points hit. Montoya thinks if he can do that it will go a long way to determining whether his fast start to the season is for real.

“This is normally a good track for us so I am excited to come out of here with good points,” he said. “We know what it takes and there is a lot of good races coming that are good races for us so I am pretty pumped up

“And I told my guys, ‘Look, if we get out of here with a top-fifteen, we are good’. But of course we want to do better, but you just got to make sure you bring the car home (in one piece).”

Either way, Montoya wants to make this season the one where he can make a legitimate run for a Sprint Cup championship.

He said that quest starts at Bristol, where he thinks he has figured out the tough little oval.

“Once you get in the rhythm of the track, it is okay,” he said.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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