NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya

2010 Ride: No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: Target, Tums, Huggies, Energizer, Lysol
2010 Owner: Chip Ganassi
2010 Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 6 top fives, 14 top 10s, 8 DNFs, 3 poles, 17th in points

High Points: Watkins Glen. After more than three years, Montoya racked up his second career Cup win, this one coming on the winding road course in the wine country of western New York. The Colombian dominated that race, leading 74 of 90 laps, and waged a thrilling nose-to-tail war with Marcos Ambrose for several laps during the middle stages. The race marked the first of five consecutive top-10 finishes for the No. 42 team at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, easily their best stretch of racing all season.

He was also one to watch at Talladega, where he finished third in both races and scored one of his three poles of 2010 in the fall. His first pole of the season came at New Hampshire in June, his second straight pole and track record at “The Magic Mile.” Finally, he led 104 laps in the spring race at Phoenix, where he fell back late to finish fifth.

Low Point: Indianapolis. For the second year in a row, spectacular late-race misfortune denied Montoya a return to Indy’s victory lane in the Brickyard 400. With teammate Jamie McMurray already a winner of the Daytona 500 and Dario Franchitti embracing his second Borg-Warner Trophy at Indy in May, Montoya was the clear favorite to give owner Chip Ganassi an unprecedented triple crown. This time, he put his No. 42 on the pole, securing a third front-row start in the 400 in only four starts.

Once the green flag flew, the Colombian dominated, leading a race-high 86 laps. But, again, pit road ultimately doomed his storybook finish. Crew chief Brian Pattie called for four tires on the final pit stop, trapping him in seventh for the final restart with 18 to go. Just two laps later, Montoya overdrove turn 4 and slammed the outside wall, taking out the passing car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the process.

Though McMurray went on to give Ganassi the triple crown, the Indy wreck resulted in Montoya’s seventh of eight DNFs in 2010. Number eight did not come until the season finale at Homestead, where a furious Joey Logano stuffed him into the frontstretch wall under caution after the two were involved in an early racing incident.

Summary: Despite the win at The Glen, 2010 just did not live up to the lofty expectations many had for the No. 42 after their near-championship run in 2009. Six of the team’s eight DNFs were the result of crashes, and with so many of them happening in the first 26 races of the season, the team was practically eliminated from Chase contention by early summer.

Back in February, it appeared that Montoya and Jamie McMurray were the new “dream team” as the Colombian was genuinely excited to work with McMurray following his Daytona 500 win. However, the relationship fell apart just two races later at Las Vegas, where McMurray clipped Montoya into a costly wreck that left him 20 laps down at the finish. From there, both teams struggled to find consistency, with Montoya scoring nearly as many finishes outside the top 20 (13) as he did inside the top 10 (14).

Team Ranking: Second. Despite Montoya’s struggles, compared to the three season victories by teammate McMurray, the No. 42 ended the year just three points positions behind McMurray’s No. 1.

Off-Track News: The Montoyas welcomed home their third child, daughter Manuela Montoya Freydell, on July 19, just days before Juan Pablo’s rollercoaster run at Indianapolis.

2011 Outlook: The Logano incident aside, Montoya’s lack of DNFs in the season’s second half and his breakthrough win at Watkins Glen seem to point to the team rebounding in 2011, which will likely be achieved by finding a happy medium of consistency between his last two seasons. Whether or not the offseason will allow the mending of fences between Montoya and McMurray is anyone’s guess, though both will certainly benefit from a truce as drafting partners in Daytona next February.

With an oval-track win and a Brickyard 400 trophy still to be won, Montoya’s goals are as clear now as ever before, and a clean slate in 2011 should be just what he needs to take another step toward both.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: C
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: A-
2010 Grade: B-

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