Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
This Week’s Question: Juan Pablo Montoya had some belittling comments for Busch Series drivers following Saturday’s race. Is this a sign he has the right attitude to be racing in Nextel Cup? Or will a bad attitude prove to be his biggest downfall?
Montoya’s Quotes on Saturday…
It’s tough passing these guys – they seem like they don’t see you, they just sort of play dumb. When you run up front, the guy up front runs a lot cleaner, a lot smarter. The guys in the back are just too dumb. I’m trying to keep the car in one piece and it’s very hard, because, yes, I am a rookie – but no, I am not a rookie. I have probably more experience in this grade, I’ve driven more things than anybody here. I am being smart, I am trying not to cause any wrecks or anything, but it’s got to stop…
Juan Pablo Montoya Is Burning His Bridges
Montoya makes his Cup debut this weekend. It will be his first experience as a rookie in the highest series of NASCAR racing, but don’t be fooled; Montoya is a very experienced race driver. He is an Indianapolis 500 champion and the youngest champion in the history of Champ Car… and that’s not to mention he has seven wins in Formula 1. In the eyes of NASCAR, though… he is a rookie.
Because of that label, Montoya comes into this series at the same level as fellow rookie Paul Menard. Regardless of his prior accomplishments, he is still at the lowest rung on the Cup ladder, and with that lowly status comes a responsibility. Montoya must ingratiate himself with the established drivers and teams in the series in order to be accepted. It is in Montoya’s hands how he is received and respected by the more experienced drivers in the Cup series; he can either mind his Ps and Qs and earn the respect he desires, or he can act as though he deserves special treatment because of his previous racing success.
There have been other open-wheel champions who have infiltrated the Cup ranks in the past. AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti drove in races in the series in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Steve Kinser from the World of Outlaws attempted to run in the series in the ’90s. Recently, Paul Tracy and Sam Hornish Jr. have tried their hand in the Busch Series. All of these drivers were treated as rookies when they first ran a stock car race. Call it old school, call it elitist; whatever it is, it is a right of passage to earn the respect of your fellow drivers.
Montoya has not started off on the right foot. After racing in the Busch Series race at Phoenix last weekend, he made those disparaging remarks above about the competitors who run in the middle to the back of the pack. He insinuated that his experience should afford him more respect from drivers who do not have the storied resume that Montoya brings to the table. That might not ruffle too many feathers in the Busch Series… but it will definitely not fly when he gets to Nextel Cup.
Montoya best come into the series with an attitude that respect is something earned by actions, not bestowed by pedigree. It is a safe bet that he will be running near the back of the pack more than near the front of the pack early in his Cup career, so it is in his best interest to race cleanly and patiently until he gets some miles under his belt in a full-bodied stock car. Ruffling feathers and bending sheetmetal is not going to endear him to his fellow competitors; the worst thing he can do is get himself ostracized in the early races of the 2007 season.
His first move should be to approach the established stars in the series and seek their advice on as many situations as he possibly can. Then, he should race everyone in the series as cleanly and cautiously as he can. After treating others as he would like to be treated, he’ll realize that he is going to be accepted into the ranks of the competitors as an equal.
Odds are, Juan Pablo will not be able to keep his ego in check. Just check out this recent video at the track from when he was accidently struck by a cameraman. As that video shows, it is a safe bet that Montoya’s hot temper is going to get him in hot water early in the year, and he is going to have an uphill battle trying to get back on the good side of his fellow competitors. That’s not going to work, because Montoya tends to fly off the handle when things don’t go exactly as he would like for them to. This attitude is going to not only rub his fellow competitors the wrong way… but it will probably take a toll on his team.
The ball is in Montoya’s court on this situation. If he can keep his temper in check, he can go a long way toward being a respected driver in the series. If he can’t, there is a great chance that he will not have any friends on or off the track, and his life as a Cup series driver will be very difficult. It is up to him which path he chooses; I have a feeling, though, he’s not going after the right one. – Mike Neff
Finally, A Driver With A ‘Tude
Looking back at Montoya’s comments from last Saturday, one thing is clear: this guy didn’t come to NASCAR to mess around. His unfettered ego and booming confidence not only makes him ready and willing to say whatever is on his mind; it gives him the ability to turn politically incorrect faster than you can blink.
Well, Juan, I only have one thing to say…
In a sport where younger drivers are so busy reciting their list of sponsors, they’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a personality, Montoya’s hubris could become a refresher course in how to show your true feelings towards others. Love him or hate him, Montoya’s strong words constantly elicit an opinion from the fanbase in whatever series he’s participating in. You may hate him…you may like him… but gosh darnit, you’re going to have an opinion about what he’s doing.
Of course, whether Montoya is factually correct about what he says is a whole other matter. If I was anyone either covering or participating the Busch Series exclusively, I’d be beyond ticked off that Montoya insulted half the field with his actions.
You know what, though? That insult may make those drivers work just that much harder on the track, refusing to cut Montoya a break when he needs it and teaching him respect the hard way: in a world where everyone is increasingly everyone else’s friend, it might be nice to establish a situation where there’s a driver competing that certain people just don’t like.
As Montoya moves up the ladder and establishes himself in Nextel Cup, don’t expect that attitude to change; if anything, it will only get worse. But for those who have been left salivating at the mouth for a NASCAR rivalry… well, I think you now have your villain.
Let’s just hope Montoya can back up that trash talk with some tangible results. – Tom Bowles