The Frontstretch: Bowles-Eye : Montoya's Win-At-All-Costs Mentality Paying Off...But Don't Crown Him NASCAR's Newest Star Quite Yet by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday March 4, 2007

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Well, don't just stand there
Say nice things to me
Cause I've been cheated, I've been wronged
(Push – Matchbox 20)

Scott Pruett got out of his car and stumbled for words. With less than nine laps left, he'd seen his chances for victory go up in smoke South of the Border, and the creator of said "smoke" was none other than his own teammate. Breaking NASCAR's modern-era code of "Every man for himself…except if you're near another car that's being paid for by your owner," Juan Pablo Montoya had taken Pruett's Juicy Fruit Dodge, chewed up the gum, and spit it out on the side of the road course, spinning him en route to a win amongst a raucous pro-Montoya crowd in Mexico City. Where there's smoke, there's always fire, and Pruett would have liked nothing more than to get fired up in front of the man who cost him a chance at Victory Lane. The fact that he'd won the Rolex 24 at Daytona with the same man one month earlier was no consolation to the frustration of losing a trophy Pruett would have loved to lose out on fair and square.

"That was just no good, low, nasty dirty driving," said Pruett in a postrace TV interview that was G-Rated compared to the swear words he used later to describe how politely Montoya left him hanging. "He was faster than me, we could (have worked) it out, he could go. But you don't take each other out…that's just bad driving."

Well, Scott can agonize over it all he wants, but that bad driving was rewarded with a trophy in Victory Lane. Montoya could apologize till the cows come home, and his crew can cry themselves a river (Brad Parrott was so emotional he looked like he was about to bawl after the contact), but the bottom line is the win-at-all-costs mentality Montoya represents left him shining in the spotlight. Of course, in the winners' circle the driver uttered all the usual apologies you get out of a scenario like the one that was caused; I didn't mean to do it, I feel bad that it happened, and I wish things could have turned out differently. Well, you can draw your own conclusions, but one look at Montoya facing a crowd that seemed ready to charge the track and form a giant mosh pit in the man's honor and it hardly seemed he was apologetic. Perhaps ecstatic and relieved were more appropriate words to use for those defining moments in which Montoya basked in the glory of his own popularity.

"I've never met a driver that puts so much pressure on himself like he does," said Ganassi's minority owner Felix Sabates of his driver on ESPN's NASCAR Countdown. "He's so competitive. Yesterday, he missed the pole by just a fraction and he was very upset after that. Threw his glove down on the ground. I like that; I like to see someone with a fire in him. He wants to win, he doesn't want to lose."

That's not a surprise, for after years of success in every level of motorsports he's competed in, Montoya's developed both the attitude and understanding that he's the best. It's the ego most superstars possess in order to advance themselves to the next level; some keep it under wraps, others like Montoya wear it like a proud badge, but rest assured, all the top athletes need to have it to make sure they stay head over heels on top of everyone else. Defying expectations quicker than Al Gore could get applauded at the Oscars last week, Montoya has taken a laundry list of goals and gone full speed ahead as if he'd skipped from kindergarten straight to high school graduation. Race competitively in NASCAR's version of baseball AAA, the Busch Series, with minimal experience in stock cars? Check. Lead laps extensively in a race as a rookie in Nextel Cup? Check (Montoya paced the field for much of his Gatorade Duel 150 at Daytona). Win a race in one of NASCAR's top three series? Check, effective Sunday afternoon. All of this got crossed off the list, of course, with less than a dozen stock car racing starts on the resume of the 31-year-old Colombian.

That type of hurried rise through the ranks of the sport, at least on paper, doubtless will have some anointing Montoya with titles he doesn't quite deserve yet. Already, I've seen colleagues around the ‘net and on television anointing him the "New Dale Earnhardt, Sr." Others have him listed as the most talented rookie to set foot on NASCAR soil.

Well, let's hold on a second. The problem with the checklist above is it doesn't let you delve deeper, make comparisons and divulge details about just how Colombia's most talented truly stands in the NASCAR record books. Over in the "major leagues" of the sport, Montoya remains winless, losing out on the record for the quickest rookie to win a race in Nextel Cup; that honor stays with Jamie McMurray, who won in his second start back in 2002. In fact, in three Nextel Cup starts, potential hasn't turned into performance for Montoya; after finishing a pedestrian 19th and 26th, he's not even leading the rookie standings, as that honor goes to David Ragan. Even Montoya himself admitted after the race he needs a win on ovals before respect is truly earned amongst his peers, and nothing he's done has lessened the notion that a victory there is at least a year, maybe two away.

Still, that's not to take anything away from what the man just accomplished; even if the No. 42 Dodge hadn’t bowled over the leader towards the end of the race, Montoya would have likely won anyways, as his car was clearly the fastest on the track at the end. But even Sunday's performance comes with a bit of a sticky note; finishing first a race in which half the drivers entered don't run more than one or two races a year in any of NASCAR's top three series isn't what I would tab a quality win. It's the equivalent of trying to beat Tennessee Tech as a way of impressing the NCAA Basketball tournament committee. If you get a blowout win, that's great… but I wouldn't go around showing off afterwards. Overaggressive victories like that aren't helpful in the respect department, either; as it was, half the drivers in the field thought Montoya was jumping the gun on restarts and driving more like a bull with horns than a professional with years of experience making both and left and right turns.

Which gets us back to Pruett, the most frustrated driver of all. It's a man who has done nothing but give his heart and soul to Ganassi's road course program with the minimal reward of two Cup races in return, so you can't help but feel for him; I guess this is what you get nowadays for being the good guy. Pruett was clearly wronged Sunday, and there's nothing that can be done to change that. But as he leaves the chaos of the race's ending behind Monday morning, I've got some advice for him on some things he should look forward to.

They're called Las Vegas and Atlanta. No Ganassi car finished higher than 9th at either track last year, with seven finishes outside the Top 20 in nine starts. Throw a rookie into that scenario, even one with incredible potential, and you're likely to see someone crash back down to earth fairly quickly.

So, don't worry Scott…what goes around comes around. When Montoya hits the wall on an oval sometime soon, expect one of his teammates to be smiling a little on his couch on the living room, and some media types to be retracting statements they ran with just a bit too quickly.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

03/05/2007 12:25 AM

I enjoyed your article. I don’t see eye to eye with you. But that’s neither here nor there. The question is, Why the hell did you dis my alma mater?

Richard Reid
03/05/2007 02:33 AM

He’ll never be the driver there making of him!Not doing things like that,true skill and talent would have shown patience. He had time ,there is no exscuse to spin your teammate.The media would be saying something different had it been say Dale Jr. or Mark Martin.

03/05/2007 06:23 AM

You ain’t seen nothing yet. I would agree that he could easily be another Earnhardt, Sr. Earnhardt had no qualms about taking someone out to win. Juan Pablo is no different. Just ask some of those Formula 1 drivers. This is the first time in NASCAR that he has been in a position to win. Just like Earnhardt, don’t expect NASCAR to penalize him too severely.

Allen H
03/05/2007 08:24 AM

I’m kind of surprised reading your bio that you’re from Connecticut because your underlying message seems to be that one of a well educated “good ole boy”.

I hate to even use the “R” word but it seems to be in every article about this man both written and perceived. I hope he’ll be allowed the same learning curve as all the other drivers before we build him up or tear him down!

03/05/2007 10:16 AM

I felt that Montoya acted too soon but Pruett isn’t 100% blame free on that incident. His spotter should have helped him out a little more there also. Pruett wasn’t going to win. And he still got a top 5 out of the deal. No doubt that Montoya’s win has gona a long way toward people taking him seriously as a stock car racer. I do agree with the author’s point in that a lot of the field was filled with guys who do not race regularly. Montoya does need to win on an oval to be taken seriously, and I was pleased to hear him say as much in his post race interview. I respect the man for his talent and his open wheel racing accomplishments, but he’s no Earnhardt and won’t be. At best, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in future years, and at worst he’ll be a road course ringer who happened to land full time Cup and Busch rides.

03/05/2007 10:55 AM

What montoya should have said in Victory Lane was, “I’d like to thank Chip “I hired him as a PR move” Gannassi, and ‘I’d like to thank NASCAR’s new affirmative action policy, and I’d like to thank ESPN for annointing me as a Saint for 80 laps. I really wish that there were other racers on the track, instead of field fillers. When NASCAR gave me “The Call” I knew it was going to happen in Mexico, as T.V ratings are down, and Brian France really needs that hispanic audience.”

Jim Coyle
03/05/2007 12:08 PM

I’ve been a Montoya fan since his days in F3000 and the charge from mid-field to the front is typical for Montoya and something that makes him such an exciting driver to watch. With that said, I wasn’t impressed at all with the move from 2nd to 1st. The golden rule in any form of racing is “do not take out your teammate”. Pruitt was a “ringer”, probably with the instruction of being 2nd to Montoya first, win second. Montoya WAS going to pass him, if not when he did, it would of happened within 2 more laps. I for one am glad he won, just not the way he did it. And even though I’m a big Montoya fan, this win, especially on a road course, does not make me falsely believe he’s going to do big things on the ovals at this point. But given a season to learn the ropes, he should be looking good for next year.

Oh yea, he should still pull a win on an oval this year…...but I wouldn’t get too pumped for the chase, this year anyway.

03/05/2007 01:02 PM

Two things come to mind when the subject is Juan Pablo: Overkill with respect to media coverage, and “What goes around comes around” probably being bantered about in the garage.

abe browne
03/05/2007 04:06 PM

Pruett took out another driver just like JPM did to him earlier. In Nextell, when JPM gets the equipment that Stewart, Harvick, Hendrick boys and Roush boys has, he will produce some wins. He is a better driver overall than these guys.

Rick McQuiston
03/05/2007 04:10 PM

During televised post race interviews, I missed any comment from Montoya about being sorry he took out Pruett. And he was almost pompous about the win.

I don’t know. Road racing or not, he’s got a long row to hoe with the big boys in cup.

I can’t imagine him getting frisky with Stewart, Harvick or even Gordon. I may be wrong, but he appears to be a playground bully who’s going to be taken down a notch by those who are more skilled than the Busch guys in Mexico.

Excellent article!

03/05/2007 05:19 PM

Rick McQuiston: You certainly missed it because he said he was very sorry for what happened with Pruett right after the race. ;)

03/05/2007 05:48 PM

Except for the bonehead rookie mistake, Montoya did a good job. But nobody seems to have noticed that Scott Pruett came back from his spin a lot quicker than Montoya did from his pit stop. Juan may have talent and potential, but he needs some NASCAR seasoning. Pruett’s already got it.

Robert Eastman
03/06/2007 12:25 AM

And now we know why JPM lost his $1 million + per race ride in F1. Long on talent and ability, short on maturity and self control!
Ticket sales and TV ratings should skyrocket for the Cup series road course events. The fans will be bursting with excitement in anticipation of some phenominal racing entertainment. When JPM bangs sheetmetal against the competitions’ “A teams,” it should be a spectacular show!!! It’s exactly what NASCAR needs.
Rumor has it that JPM and Brian Vickers are going to partner in an “instructional” seminar series titled “Race Winning Strategies” subtitled “How To (not) Win Friends and Influence People” (on your own team).
The thrill of the unexpected is what keeps us “race junkies” hooked!

Fast Freddie
03/06/2007 04:26 AM

I suspect that after a few laps around Bristol, JPM will have a renewed respect for his fellow drivers. Vegas and Atlanta may be too fast for “old school” track lessons….but Bristol is perfect.

JPM is a good driver, but it takes more than that to be consistant on Sunday.


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