The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Aaron's Commitment, Montoya's Departure And Helping The Competition by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday August 14, 2013

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Did You Notice?… Juan Pablo Montoya’s NASCAR career is three months from ending? That’s a cold reality after Tuesday’s late-breaking story he’ll be released from his Earnhardt Ganassi ride after the season. On paper, that’s not a surprise. 22nd in the standings, he’s a whopping 292 points behind Jimmie Johnson and is almost certain to miss the Chase. With just three top-5 finishes, only Marcos Ambrose and Danica Patrick have done worse among the fully funded drivers to run every race.

But numbers don’t carry emotion, a human connection that keeps athletes afloat long after their time has come. That’s why this release has sent shockwaves through the NASCAR community. Owner Chip Ganassi, through seven years of employing Montoya has remained loyal and adamant the former Indy 500 winner can one day master the art of stock car racing. Where other drivers, like Reed Sorenson were released after a few short years to prove themselves it seemed like his Colombian protégé was given a lifetime leash. In stories announcing the move, it was even noted how a possible ride exists in IndyCar, SportsCar Racing or other Ganassi teams should they find the proper funding for Montoya (F1 is not an option). It’s a happy marriage of personalities, so good that it took three times as long as seemingly everywhere else for poor results to lead to that pink slip.

Was it deserved? Try asking Casey Atwood, AJ Allmendinger, or Regan Smith that question. Each was axed, from their first Cup rides without the seven years of patience EGR has given in this case. During that time, there’s been limited success: one Chase appearance, two wins, a few dangling carrots of oval dominance ruined by some late-race nightmare. Overall, though, Montoya’s lasting legacy of an aggressive driving style was also his downfall. His first Cup start was a wreck with Ryan Newman, a driver who later punched him in the face inside a NASCAR hauler in one of a handful of heavyweight rivals he created. Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, even mild-mannered teammate Jamie McMurray were, at times the “Target” of his front bumper. Bravado may earn you points in the boxing ring, but it certainly doesn’t help you score some on the racetrack – especially when your car’s on the wrecker in pieces.

At the same time, while justified, Tuesday was a dark day within NASCAR Nation. Chances are Montoya will vanish altogether; he’s too proud and accomplished to accept a full-time ride in Nationwide, similar to what Sam Hornish, Jr. did with Penske Racing. There’s little to no Cup options out there, meaning he’ll be off the circuit week-to-week. And what we lose from Montoya is a dose of personality other, up-and-coming drivers (including likely replacement Kyle Larson) can’t match. Love him or hate him, the Colombian spent his time firing people up while becoming one of the most difficult cars to pass each race. In an era where people move over for each other, too often like we’re driving on the highway and curtsy like they’re part of a ballet dance, not an athletic competition, that is going to be sorely missed. Montoya was one of those “love or hate” people that brought an opinion out of everyone involved in the sport: fans, drivers, media. Another “cookie-cutter” type replacement in the wake of his departure means there’s one less driver we can count on for a lovable quote.

Good luck, Juan Pablo. We’ll miss your candid moments: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Did You Notice?… Aaron’s stepped up to back Brian Vickers for a full season of competition? That, to me was the most important part of Tuesday’s announcement that had been expected for several months. There’s no doubt the 29-year-old, July’s New Hampshire winner was the perfect fit within Michael Waltrip Racing, rebuilding a career with hard work and perseverance. But you can’t build a marriage in today’s Cup competition without the big-time money to go with it.

Aaron’s, which had gone through some management restructuring, was far from a 100 percent lock. They’d only signed on board for about two-thirds of the Cup schedule, the last two seasons and had shied away from backing Vickers when he slid behind the wheel. You’d have to think that surprise victory at Loudon, one Mark Martin had never given them was the turning point needed for someone to open the safe.

Brian Vickers has plenty to smile about after announcing Aaron’s will back him for the entirity of his return to full-time Sprint Cup racing.

What we do know is Vickers, along with soon-to-be-re-signed crew chief Rodney Childers become a formidable Chase contender in 2014. Right now, if you projected his limited schedule of results over a full season he’d be 18th in the standings, in contention for a bid. Those numbers should only improve with a Chase mindset, not a win-or-bust mentality combined with the consistency of being in the car every week. As long as Vickers keeps his car in one piece, an occasional stumbling block during his best years with Red Bull Racing a career year could easily be within reach. And if he ever makes the Chase, with a team capable of competing don’t forget he’s one of the sport’s best on intermediates, tracks which make up five of those final ten races.

With this signing, MWR now becomes the only “megateam” within the Cup Series that has all its full-time drivers under 35 years old. Hard to believe, considering their rocky 2007 start but they’ve positioned themselves to be contenders over the long-term.

Did You Notice?… A few quick hits before taking off…

- Mark Martin’s future remains “undetermined” at Michael Waltrip Racing for 2014. Waltrip does want a fourth car to run in at least the Daytona 500; could Martin slide behind for some more events? I think it’s unlikely, especially considering Clint Bowyer has ten unsponsored races on the No. 15 car. With no solid options, my hunch remains that Martin, at 54 years old is going to say “enough” after a down year and hang up the driving shoes.

- Considering Austin Dillon’s 11th-place finish, at Michigan in June he’s not a bad choice to sub for Tony Stewart. But what happened to good old-fashioned competition? Here’s a Chevy team whose rival is going to run Dillon, full-time on the Cup circuit next season. So you’re helping develop a rookie who’s going to potentially turn around and beat you? When there are other veterans, such as Regan Smith more closely connected to the team and available?

Again, Dillon deserves an opportunity just as much as several others on the list. But at some point, this whole everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya has got to be one of the problems, right? People don’t watch NFL because the Defense stops covering and helps the Offense score a touchdown. What happened to rivalries? Looking out for oneself instead of all 43 teams coming together in a big metal-melting hug? Dillon has plenty of extra opportunities to run in Cup coming up, with the team he’s actually going to be driving for. It’s also notable Elliott Sadler, last season while with RCR got nixed from driving a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing – the very decision that gave Vickers the opportunity he took advantage of.

- The next surprise departure we could see from the Cup Series, after years of trying is Marcos Ambrose. 23rd in points, now without his signature win at Watkins Glen that’s “salvaged” the past two seasons his No. 9 Ford team has clearly regressed. With Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola running well, 18th in points you’d have to think the Australian superstar is frustrated. With 36 top-10 finishes in 177 starts, along with two wins on road courses those numbers look suspiciously mediocre… like Montoya’s.

But here’s where the two differ: Ambrose won’t wait for the axe. Last season, sources told me big money was offered for him to go back down under. Will the temptation of top-tier equipment, back in his homeland be too much to resist?

- You think Jeff Gordon, with his five DNFs is frustrated? Try being Travis Kvapil. He’s got eight DNFs, the most of the full-time Cup competitors running the distance and seven have been outside his control. It’s been three wrecks alone, in the last six weeks where he’s played the role of victim. You just didn’t hear about it until Danica Patrick was held responsible…

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phil h
08/14/2013 01:58 AM
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shockwaves? Montoya?

don’t see that it’s much of a surprise.

seven years at the wheel of a Cup car and only 2 wins? not good

the only excitement out of Montoya of late was when he took out the jet-dryer at Daytona!
again….not good!

it was fun Juan! but alas,time’s up!

JP
08/14/2013 07:41 AM
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What’s surprising to me is that he lasted this long. Was it for PC reasons? Would a white driver have been given that much time?

We could put out a list of young drivers would have shown great promise who weren’t or aren’t given prime seats for some reason.

I wonder how BSPN will handle this?

RickP
08/14/2013 07:55 AM
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Good riddance to JPM. He should have been gone long ago.

Too proud and accomplished? How about to arrogant and cocky. In F1, it’s nearly all about the cars and pit strategy to win. In Cup, some driving skill was involved and all he could do was he keep hitting his competitors and even a blower truck!

Name that ride=88=Ride that Name
08/14/2013 09:41 AM
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Lack of production?

Big Dan
08/14/2013 10:15 AM
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I wish a decent team would give Marcos Ambrose a chance because I still think he can get it done in Cup. He was running really well with Todd Parrott last year (three top fives in row) and then they took Parrott and moved him to Almirola, and his performance suddenly improved, but not to where Ambrose was running. He has just gotten the raw end of the deal at RPM.

DonM
08/14/2013 10:42 AM
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A couple of breaks here and there and Montoya would have won at least three non road course races that I can think of the past few years.

Carl D.
08/14/2013 11:46 AM
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Possibly an opportunity for Montoya to deliver a little payback to some drivers he has a history with? Maybe not on purpose, but I don’t see him trying overly hard to race drivers clean that he might have a beef with if they get in his way.

Overra88ted
08/14/2013 11:49 AM
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Juan Pablo Montoya has exactly the same number of wins as another driver who has under performed for the last 7 years – Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2 wins.

Overra88ted
08/14/2013 11:53 AM
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Austin Dillon as a sub in the #14 was a No-Brainer. Duh! Bass Pro Shops made that call.

Upstate24fan
08/14/2013 12:42 PM
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Montoya never quite made that leap to consistent performer and winner on the ovals. He even kind of backed into that Chase appearance. It proves that “turning left” isn’t as easy as it looks.

I hope Ganassi doesn’t rush Kyle Larson into that car and at least gives him another full-season in Nationwide (i.e. see Joey Logano). Newman or maybe Mark Martin sharing the ride with Larson could be a good fit for the next year or two.

Carl D.
08/14/2013 01:00 PM
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Over88… then there must be a good business reason to keep Junior on board at HMS. But I’m not going to complain if Rick Hendrick wants to spend his money on average talent.

Upstate… I agree. To put Kyle Larson in the #42 car next season would be a horrible mistake for both EGR and Larson.

dh
08/14/2013 01:02 PM
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@overra88ted – re: dale vs juan – you nailed it – thanks!

Kevin in SoCal
08/14/2013 02:16 PM
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Ellen in the newsletter said she was bored by Pocono and Watkins Glen but she’s excited about the upcoming Michigan race? Might want to check her for PED’s…

Richard Petersen
08/14/2013 06:13 PM
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Juan Pablo Montoya is actually a good racer, but Sprint Cup isn’t the place for him yet. He should scale down to NATIONWIDE and see how that goes for a year or two. As for his replacement, people are saying Kyle Larson and honestly, I don;t think that’s a good idea just yet. Give him at least another year or so in NATIONWIDE. I would be looking at these following drivers who is without a ride or contracts end at the end of this year: Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin (part-time in the No.8 with Kyle Larson maybe?), David Ragan, and David Reutimann. Reason I didn’t say Ryan Neaman like everyone else or Kurt Busch…well, RCR looks to already have Newman for the #29 Chevy and Kurt Busch I think should stay with Furniture Row Racing for at least another year. Also I didn’t say A.J. Allmendinger, because JTG Daughtery Racing looks to have them when that team I believe will switch to Chevrolet next year and form an alliance with RCR.

Overra88ted
08/14/2013 09:34 PM
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Carl D. … Just how many upcoming races is Dale Jr. not going to have a primary sponsor? No primary sponsor locked in for 2014. National Guard is not staying forever, and most likely will cut back next year, if they return at all.

stan
08/15/2013 12:56 AM
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Everyone is talking like montoya is leaving a good team. EGR is one of the worst teams in nascar. I feel sorry for larson if he gets the sprint cup ride with this sorry team.

midasmicah
08/15/2013 09:08 AM
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Good luck Montoya. At the least, you’ve been entertaining to watch. But the results have been mediocre.

john
08/15/2013 09:48 AM
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Overra88ted are you insane? I’m not Dale Jr. fan or anything, but 2 wins, leading the points at times, rafts of top 5s and several Chase appearances is not the same thing as 2 wins and struggling to run in the top 5.

Don’t really care about Montoya at this point, would like to see him land either a Grand-Am ride or Indycar though… But Marcos? I watch the V8 Supercars religiously so I’ll be real happy to watch him go back there and kick some ass, but it’s a real shame he never got a chance to drive good equipment. He should’ve been given a chance at Roush, either in the 6 or the 17.

Richard Petersen
08/15/2013 01:56 PM
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stan You have to be kidding me? Earnhardt-Ganassi is a pretty awesome race team. Or at least it would without Ganassi anyways. It was better just as D.E.I.

 

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Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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