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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2007 Driver Review: Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya
2007 Ride: No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge
2007 Primary Sponsor: Texaco/Havoline
2007 Owner: Chip Ganassi
2007 Crew Chief: Donnie Wingo

Stats: 36 races, one win, three top fives, six top 10s, 20th in points.

High Point: Some people expected the Formula 1 star to make big noise right off the bat in NASCAR, while others hoped he’d fall flat on his face. For his part, Montoya just wanted to win some races and do his talking on the track.

Well, he got his wish.

Montoya got his first NASCAR victory in just his third week of the season – when the Busch Series visited Mexico City. No matter what camp you were in, you had to think he’d be a threat on the road courses, and Montoya proved that theory correct when he followed up that victory with a Nextel Cup road-course win at Infineon Raceway in June.

Low Point: NASCAR is a whole different culture from most other race series, and those already familiar with Montoya and his aggressive style had an idea the transition might be bumpy at times. It was – literally. The Colombian stepped on a few toes along the way, most notably Kevin Harvick‘s at Watkins Glen. After an incident that left both drivers sitting off course with damaged cars, Harvick voiced his less than favorable opinion to Montoya… loudly and up close. To make matters worse, the incident wasn’t entirely Montoya’s fault. Sure, he was being a little aggressive, but a bump from Martin Truex Jr. was what really sent him into Harvick.

Summary: Not a bad rookie effort, really. Montoya took Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, won a race with a team that hasn’t visited victory lane in several seasons, and quite frankly did exactly what a rookie should do: he improved as the series made return visits to tracks during the year. That oval-track victory he really wanted eluded him, but Montoya had some stellar runs and got close more than a few times. Perhaps his best run on an oval was a nice second-place result at Indianapolis, of all places; it’s a track where Montoya has enjoyed success before as a former Indianapolis 500 winner.

As for the personality thing, well, to be honest, Montoya’s not the first guy to get Harvick riled up, and since when is a little aggression in NASCAR a bad thing? Seriously, ask Tony Stewart. But this does go to show that NASCAR isn’t as easy as many in the racing world think. Montoya was respectable for a rookie on a second-tier team, but he certainly didn’t set the world on fire.

2008 Outlook: Some thought the schedule would be too much for him, but Montoya says he loves it and he’ll be back for more. A rising sophomore, no changes for this team next year means he carries some consistency into 2008. And as Montoya settles into NASCAR, don’t forget this is one of the best drivers in the world. That means that as he goes back to some of these tracks for the third time, it’s reasonable to expect a much more consistent performance next year. The only problem is the team is more limited in its potential than the driver right now – but with the hiring of former Roush/DEI guru Steve Hmiel this offseason, perhaps that will change over time.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: C

Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.

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