2008 Ride: No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge
2008 Primary Sponsors: Texaco/Havoline, Big Red, Juicy Fruit
2008 Owner: Chip Ganassi
2008 Crew Chief: Donnie Wingo (Feb. – Apr.); Jimmy Elledge (Apr. – May); Brian Pattie (May – Nov.)
Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 3 top 10s, 0 poles, 25th in points
Best Finish: Second (Talladega – April)
High Point: As the statistics show, 2008 was a pretty dismal year for Juan Pablo Montoya — as it was for the entire Chip Ganassi Racing organization. That’s not to say there weren’t some bright spots, though… even if they were hard to come by. One of the brightest had to be a second-place finish for the Colombian in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in April. Montoya claims to like restrictor-plate racing, but this is by far his best result on one of the high-speed tracks so far… and it wasn’t a fluke. Montoya, along with one-time teammate David Stremme, ran in and around the top 10 all day, proving that for at least that one weekend, the team was flashing some of its old form.
While Stremme got shuffled back and caught up in a wreck late, Montoya made all the right moves and pushed race winner Kyle Busch to the finish line, scoring one of only two top fives on the season for himself in the process. To put just how good of a day it was in perspective, the only other top-10 finishes Montoya scored in 2008 came at Watkins Glen and Infineon — the two road courses where he’s always been competitive even when Ganassi hasn’t. And the fact it occurred just one week after switching crew chiefs — from longtime head wrench Donnie Wingo to former No. 41 leader Jimmy Elledge — was icing on the cake.
Low Point: So many to choose from in this category… but the lowest point of 2008 for Montoya was probably the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway this November. The sophomore had a really good car and was running in the top 10 the entire race — that is, up until lap 264 when David Gilliland decided he didn’t like Montoya’s driving style and punted him into the outside wall. To add insult to injury, Gilliland was not running on the lead lap when the incident occurred, bringing up the question of why a lapped car would run one on the lead lap so hard in the first place. Montoya wasn’t completely innocent, though. He admitted that he had nudged Gilliland before the crash because Gilliland had slipped up the track and, in his opinion, crowded him into the wall. Gilliland claims he only meant to nudge Montoya as well, but the result of his nudge was a car for the No. 42 team that was unable to continue in the race and wound up finishing 43rd — the lowlight of a dismal Chase which included five DNFs in the final 10 races for wrecks.
Summary: Chip Ganassi Racing has been in a backslide for the last several years, and 2008 was not a year that saw that trend change. Between sponsorship issues affecting his teammates and personnel changes on his own crew — including three different crew chiefs in one month — this was quite a challenging season for Montoya. It was also just his second season in NASCAR so perhaps one might be tempted to consider the sophomore slump part of the equation too. But whatever the reason, he failed to live up to higher expectations after winning a race and capturing top rookie honors in 2007.
Team Ranking: Montoya and the No. 42 are the flagship team at Chip Ganassi Racing; but for 2009, there are some changes. Ganassi has merged with DEI to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, and that brings up some questions as to whether Montoya or new teammate Martin Truex Jr. will be top dog in the four-car operation.
Off-Track News: When Montoya left Formula 1 for NASCAR, there were some who thought the real reason was because he didn’t have any prospects for a ride there for 2007. Montoya claimed it was because he wanted a new challenge, and he found NASCAR intriguing — end of story. Well, perhaps fans got a good idea of which answer was closer to the truth in 2008. Montoya had an offer from Toro Rosso (that’s Red Bull in Italian and is the name used to denote the F1 branch of the operation’s second squad) to run their car next season but he declined, preferring to stay in NASCAR instead. Granted, it was the team’s second-tier squad, but Toro Rosso scored a victory in 2008 with driver Sebastian Vettel. Given the rough ride in NASCAR in 2008, doesn’t one have to wonder if there wasn’t some little bit of temptation?
2009 Outlook: In all honesty, who knows what to expect from Montoya’s team? At first glance, there is reason for optimism with the DEI merger. DEI probably had better engines, something that will likely benefit Montoya because a manufacturer switch means those are the engines they will continue to use. Chevrolet posts better results than Dodge, as well, so the change may also bring better equipment.
On the other side of the coin, DEI and Ganassi both struggled last year with performance and sponsorship in their own right — none of their six full-time cars made the Chase. So, can two struggling organizations throw in together, pool what resources they do have, and be better for it — or does it just become one giant mess? We’ll have to wait and see.
Quote of the Year: “I’ve loved restrictor-plate racing since the first time I came to Talladega,” Montoya said in April. “The bumping, it’s tough. You can finish 20th in a heartbeat — or 30th. It’s pretty exciting because it takes a lot of strategy, and you always have to pick the right lane. I really helped [winner] Kyle [Busch]. I managed to get on his bumper, and when you can get on somebody’s bumper you can actually push them all the way around the corner. I made up a bunch of ground and it was good, and I got up to second and then dropped to fifth and got up to second again. It was a pretty cool, interesting race.”
2007 Frontstretch Grade: C.
2008 Grade: D.