Montoya proves he’s in Chase fight (+video)

If crew chief Brian Pattie brings a No. 42 car for Juan Pablo Montoya that is competitive, well then, the rest of the field has to say «uh oh.» That team has made it crystal clear that they are about big-picture racing. They have told everyone who will listen that they are not doing anything to jeopardize missing the 2009 Chase.

Does that mean they don’t want to win? Of course not. It just means they are going to look at the risk/reward of things and make their decision based on what effect it will have on the Chase.

One thing I think gets overlooked when talking about Juan Pablo Montoya is how smart a racecar driver he is. He understands the big picture very clearly. To some, that is so unexpected from him. A lot of people have labeled him as a hothead. They say he can only accept it when it’s his way and can’t accept being mediocre. But if you listen closely, especially these last few weeks, you clearly hear him say how important it is for them to make the Chase.

So making the Chase is more important to Montoya.

You heard Brian Pattie during a TV interview late in the race Monday mention big-picture racing. That whole team is geared toward that. I have said it many times before, but I think if you see them make the Chase, then you are going to see a different driver behind the wheel. In talking to Juan Pablo, his mentality is to first make the Chase, and then he is going to turn it loose and go win some races. He is opening some eyes and has impressed me about how determined he is to be successful in NASCAR. Now I think it is really starting to shine through.

We don’t know what has prompted the team and driver to take this approach. Maybe there is a long-term effect on sponsorship for the No. 42 car. There may be some huge bonus for making the Chase. There might be a sponsor extension if they make the Chase.

Or it could be something as simple as a personal desire to make it into what most consider an elite group. It could be just that simple. Whatever he and the team are doing, I like it a lot. I think it is pretty dang cool.

The thing is, once you make the Chase, you have nothing to lose. It’s a 10-race shootout with the winner getting a big fat check at the awards banquet. What’s the worst-case scenario? You finish 12th for the year.

All year long, Montoya and the gang have been putting top-10 finishes on the board. Monday at Pocono was their first top-five finish of the year.

He probably felt like he let one slip through his fingers two weeks ago at Indy, but he came right back and backed it up at Pocono. I like that. There are still some very good race tracks in front of him in these final five races, especially the road course this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Again, I think he is showing that he is doing everything he can do and showing how smart of a driver he is.

Jeff Hammond
August 6, 2009

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