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?????????By Diego Mejia

Juan Pablo MontoyaJuan Pablo Montoya is optimistic of his chances of fighting for victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega.

The Colombian kicked off his stock car racing career at the 2.66-mile track in the ARCA series in October 2006 and since then he has competed there four times with a best result of second a year ago.

Having run well at Daytona in February, the other restrictor-plate track, Montoya is upbeat about his chances coming into the ninth round of the season.

«Talladega has always been a great racetrack for me, we always run well there,» Montoya said. «I think this year, with Chevy power and everything that’s going on with the team, it’s been great.

«[Martin] Truex qualified on pole in the [Daytona] 500. Everything is in place to run strong. I think qualifying doesn’t really mean much there. But if you look at the future, we’re looking really good.»

Montoya has scored two top 10 finishes this season and ranks 15th in the championship after dropping down after Phoenix last week, where a late pit-road penalty hampered his chances of a strong finish.

Despite seeing Sunday’s race at Talladega as one of his best chances to win his first oval race, the Earnhardt Ganassi driver believes his maiden victory could come on any kind of oval.

He reckons there’s an element of luck involved in racing at Talladega, and not even being fast and running up front can guarantee a good result.

«I think this year, anywhere it’s going to come,» said Montoya. «I think before we either waited for a restrictor plate or maybe a mile-and-a-half to run really well.

«The way things are running, I think it can come anywhere. I think our pace is good enough to start winning races anywhere. We’re in the right path, we’re very close.

«One of our strongest weekends is Talladega, but Talladega is so out of your hands, it’s so hard to say ‘yes, this is where we’re going to go and win’. Look at last year, we were leading and the outside lane went past us on the backstretch. They all wrecked and took us.

«If you survive the wreck, then you might have a chance, but you’ve got to survive the wreck first.»

DEI cars led by Regan Smith were in strong contention for victory in last fall’s event at Talladega. Smith crossed the line first but was stripped of victory for passing under the yellow line.

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