Earlier this week on Twitter, Juan Pablo Montoya let the world know his wife had given birth to their daughter Manuela. The couple’s third child, this newest edition may just be the good luck charm her father needs this weekend at Indianapolis as he chases the win that slipped away one year ago.
Montoya has a number of things on his side heading into the 17th running of the Brickyard 400, not just the birth of his third child. He dominated the event last year until a late-race mistake cost him a shot at the win, his car owner has one nearly every premier motorsports race this year and Montoya is headed to his best track on the circuit.
In one of the most dominant showings of his four-year NASCAR career, Montoya led 116 of the 160 laps in last year’s Brickyard 400 until he was caught speeding under the final round of green-flag pit stops. Adamant he was not speeding, Montoya radioed his crew swearing on his wife and children he was not going too fast, saying, “I don’t bad mouth NASCAR, but if they do this to me I’m going to kill them. Thank you NASCAR for screwing my day.”
The Colombian eventually finished the event 11th as Jimmie Johnson took home the trophy. Clearly upset with the result, Montoya did the only thing he could, put it behind him and focus on the next race.
Heading back to the Brickyard this weekend, Montoya and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team are poised to be just as dominant as last year, and you can bet the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet will be watching his speed down pit road.
While he has one career Cup Series victory to his record (Sonoma 2007), Montoya has yet to visit victory lane at an oval – the bread and butter of the NASCAR schedule. Over the years he has been close at times, but never has the opportunity been so close to his grasp than it is each year at Indianapolis. In his stock car debut at the track, Montoya came home with a runner-up finish, he wrecked in the tire debacle that was the 2008 Brickyard 400 and, as noted earlier, he dominated last year’s event.
“There is so much history involved when you go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it’s great to be a part of it,” Montoya said. “I try to treat it like any other race weekend but there are high expectations heading into this weekend. We’ve had strong cars all year and we were fast at the tire test, and after last year’s performance people are expecting big things. The goal is to win races whether it be at Indy or Martinsville and hopefully it’ll come (the win) sooner than later.”
Although he has yet to win at Indianapolis in a stock car, he has been to victory lane at the famed track before. In his only Indianapolis 500 start, Montoya shrugged off controversy and criticism to lead 167 of 200 laps en route to the win.
For some reason, Montoya has adapted well to Indianapolis, be it in an Indy car or a stock car. Team owner Chip Ganassi remembers being amazed at how unmoved Montoya was the first time he took to the track at the famed yard of bricks.
“It was in an Indy car, and the pole speeds that year were 220 or 221 or something, and his very first run out of the box, he did a high 216 in his first four laps around the place,” Ganassi said. “He came in, and we said, ‘What’s the car doing?’ He said: ‘The car is doing nothing. It’s like a slot car.’ I said, ‘What do we need to go faster?’ He said, ‘I just got to hold my foot down further.’”
That confidence showed last year and with a new chassis and coming off the birth of a child, Montoya may be as confident as ever before.
Not only would a win mean his first non-road course win, but it would mark the first time a driver has one the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500. Not to mention, the victory would add to what is an already impressive resume that includes CART champion, Monaco Grand Prix winner, two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner, seven-time winner on the Formula 1 circuit and winner of the 2007 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Infineon Speedway.
If Montoya can close the deal this year in Indianapolis, it will not only be an historic achievement for the driver, but also the car owner. In May, Chip Ganassi became the first owner to win the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year, thanks to Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti. With a win this weekend, he would take home trophies in three of the premier events on the motorsports calendar.
“Our drivers get up for big events,” Ganassi said. “They seem to like those places. Jamie [McMurray] and Juan in NASCAR both like Daytona, Dario and Scott both like Indianapolis, Scott Pruett likes Daytona. So our guys like the places and they seem to be good at the places where the big races are. So many times you have drivers who are good at a particular type of track. Fortunately, our guys are good at the tracks that have the big races. Believe me, that’s a big help, and it’s no small thing.”
While a win this weekend may not be a small thing, it will not likely make a major impact on Montoya’s Chase hopes. Despite four top fives and eight top 10s, Montoya also has six DNFs and is currently 21st in the series standings, 242 points behind Clint Bowyer in 12th.
Luck may not have been on his side thus far in 2010, but with everything on his side this weekend in Indianapolis, Montoya may just be due that long sought after win.