Montoya hasn't lived up to the hype

Juan Pablo Montoya gets in some practice laps for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Finger Lakes 355 at...

Juan Pablo Montoya gets in some practice laps for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y., yesterday.

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:12 PM ET

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Juan Pablo Montoya set a NASCAR Sprint Cup track record on Saturday winning the pole position for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 with a lap of 127.020 m.p.h. in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at Watkins Glen International.

He just squeaked by Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, who posted a lap of 126.928 m.p.h. and Jimmie Johnson, who was third fastest in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 126.925 m.p.h.

It was also Montoya’s second consecutive pole, having the best qualifying time last week in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway.

But looking at the big picture, Montoya’s journey so far in NASCAR has certainly not lived up to expectations.

After all, Montoya came to stock car racing as a former the Indianapolis 500 winner, an IndyCar series champion and a seven-time winner in Formula One.

So it was assumed that when he brought his talents to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2006, while still in the prime of his career, Montoya would eventually be a championship contender.

He was signed by an elite team in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and had a reputation in open wheel racing of being super aggressive, something that should have served him well in the rough and tumble world of NASCAR.

Montoya, however, in the six seasons since he shocked the racing world by defecting to NASCAR from F-1 has only two wins — one in 2007 at Sonoma and one in 2010 at the Glen — both road courses where he should win given his background.

There have even been whispers in the Cup garage that Chip Ganassi is losing patience with his star pupil.

Montoya, however, bristled at the suggestion on Saturday that his performances have been less than expected in NASCAR, hinting that the team just hasn’t given him good enough race cars.

He said at the top levels of any racing series the driver is only as good as his equipment

“When the car works well you look like a hero and when the car sucks you suck,” Montoya said.

A look at his 2012 stats shows Montoya with no top five finishes and only two top 10s.

But, he said, this weekend at the Glen the EGR team has given him a good, fast car and that makes all the difference.

“It’s hard the way we have run this year,” Montoya said. “I think today we have a good car and I think I am going to win. But when we don’t, we don’t.”

It is that lackadaisical attitude, however, that leads many to question his commitment to winning, especially on the oval tracks that make up 34 of the 36 Cup races.

“I think I can run as good on ovals as I do on road courses but you need a good car,” Montoya said. “We go out there every week to do the best we can and when the best is winning, we are going to be winning. If it means finishing 20th we are going to finish 20th

“It sucks to finish 20th. I am a guy who likes to win. All my life I race to win. And the last couple of years it is pretty frustrating.”

Montoya still hasn’t given up on making a run at the Chase, even though he currently sits in 21st place, a massive 244 points back of leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It seems lately I can push the car a lot more,” he said. “I am not just driving it around. And as a result I can get a lot more out of the car.”

“I think we can contend for a win.”

He said if he can pull out a win on Sunday it could kick-start his push to the Chase.

“Having track position on Sunday we will be able to pace ourselves and hopefully play it smart,” Montoya said.

“We are talking about making the Chase. Even if we don’t win (on Sunday) we believe that with the things that we have found (in the car) lately maybe we still don’t have the fastest car out there but if we play the strategy right, we might go to Richmond with a chance of making the Chase.

“It would be shocking but it would be awesome.”

 

Fellows frustrated

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — It wasn’t a win for Ron Fellows, but it felt like one after finishing fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series ZIPPO 200 at Watkins Glen International.

Carl Edwards won — his first race of the season in any series — in the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with Brad Keselowski second in the No. 22 Penske Dodge and teammate Sam Hornish Jr. third in the No. 12 Dodge.

For Fellows, however, racing in only his second NASCAR event of the year, it was a finish that was met with high fives all the way around from crew members of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. owned No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team.

He may not have seen it that way, though, as he said afterwards that one more lap and he might have been able to challenge the top three, considering early in the race he fell behind and didn’t make a move to front until about the midway point.

“We started out the day super tight,” he said. “The car just wouldn’t turn.

“I couldn’t find brake balance that would help it. We really struggled. And then the adjustment we made in the middle of the race helped a ton.”

Fellows did not look out of place battling Sprint Cup regulars Edwards, Keselowski and Kyle Busch the entire race.

And after the pit crew — he was using Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports crew — got the car right he ran through the field to make a run to the front.

“We picked up a bunch of spots and we were actually running laps that were two or three tenths faster than we qualified,” Fellows said. “We were within a tenth of what the leaders were doing.

“I thought, ‘man if we get some track position we could be up there’.”

That chance came with five laps to go when the final caution was thrown. Fellows was eighth when the green flag flew and it was then he made a crucial move.

“I was concerned on the last re-start that the caution at the end was going to hurt us,” he said. “But we ended up with good track position.”

Fellows said there was a moment, however, when he thought it might be over for him and the No. 5 Chevrolet.

“It was wild on that final restart going through turn two, going three wide with Kyle and the No. 6 car (Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse).”

Fellows went into that turn three wide between Busch and Stenhouse knowing that only one of them would come out ahead.

“But with only a little bit of rubbing and we managed to pop out through the centre of it,” he said. “It was fun.”

Next up for Fellows is a return to Canada next weekend and the race where he recorded his last Nationwide win — the NAPA 200 in Montreal.

“It’s on to Montreal next week and with some luck we can get our second win at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve,” he said.

The Glen offers a true test

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Mistakes at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level can turn a first place into a 40th place in a blink of an eye.

And five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said Saturday that on a road course like Watkins Glen International the chances of making a mistake are multiplied by the number of turns a driver has to make.

“More than anything, the counting braking zones, turn-in points, and throttle applications we have basically on an oval, you do that twice in a lap,” he said. “Sure there’s a lot going on and you’ve got to manage your car, but there’s at least three major braking zones here and then two other light braking zones.

‘Excited’

“So you go from two sets of corners to worry (on an oval) about to really six or seven. And the numbers just work against you there and there are more opportunities to make a mistake than on an oval.”

Starting on the second row Sunday after qualifying just .052 seconds behind pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya, Johnson hopes to go mistake free to earn his first road-course victory. That fact alone doesn’t sound right considering Johnson has won an incredible 58 times on almost every track on the NASCAR calendar, just never at Watkins Glen or at Sonoma.

But with his good qualifying lap of 126.925 m.p.h., Johnson likes his chances on Sunday in the Finger Lakes 355.

“I’m very excited about tomorrow,” he said. “In race trim we did a nice 12-lap run and the car held pace really nice. So hopefully tomorrow is our day to win here.”

Win or bust strategy for Busch

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — There is no more points racing for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota.

Busch is an uncomfortable 15th place in the championship, 11 points behind Jeff Gordon and the final wild-card spot.

Busch desperately needs a win to make it to the Chase.

So he was frank on Saturday saying it is win or else for him in the last five races until NASCAR’s version of a playoff.

“For the next five or whatever it is, it’s win or bust, basically,” Busch said after a second-place qualifying

effort.

“Finishing second or third or fourth isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

He thinks he is going to need at least one more win to lock on a Chase spot.

“Three is a lock, but you can have two and just try to keep yourselves in front of the guys that do have one win in case they do get a win,” Busch said.

“Right now, us having one win, Jeff Gordon having one win — that’s who I feel like we’re really racing, is the 24 car.

“If we pass him in points, obviously that will get us back in the Chase.”

The problem is that the next couple of tracks are considered good tracks for Gordon.

“He runs really, really well at Atlanta and he also runs good at Bristol, too,” Busch said.

“There’s an opportunity there for him to get another win, which would make it two.

“If he gets two and we’re in front of him in points with only one win, then he’s in and we’re out. If we win two, I think we’ll be okay.”

 


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