JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET met with media and discussed last week’s win at The Glen, racing at Michigan and Bristol, not making the Chase and plans for the rest of the season, and more.
HOW IS THE WEATHER CHANGING PRACTICE AND THE WAY THE CAR HANDLES TODAY VERSUS YESTERDAY? «It’s great. Every time the sun comes out it will do something different and slide around. You complain on the radio and then you come in and you hear everybody said, oh the last five minutes everybody is complaining about the car. It’s very hard when you make changes to know whether the change was the wrong change or the conditions changed. So you’ve got to be very careful with that. And it’s okay. It’s the same for everybody and we’ve got to figure it out. It’s hard because the first practice was really early and it’s a lot cooler than what I think it’s going to be tomorrow. I think the next practice will be a little better. But it’s not really warming up, it is?»
IS IT A GUESSING GAME? «Well, no. You’ve got to work on the car and understand that you’re going to slide around more when the sun is out and when it’s not and things like that. You’ve just got to keep that in mind.»
IS A WEEK AFTER A WIN BETTER THAN A WEEK AFTER NO WIN? «It’s a lot easier week. It was fun. I think the atmosphere of the team is a lot better. They are a lot more calm. Everybody is doing their job like we talked about. It was fun. We came here and qualified good again. It’s nice.»
WHEN YOU WON IN 2000 AT SONOMA, YOU MINIMIZED THAT BY SAYING OH WELL THAT WAS JUST A ROAD COURSE. DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY ABOUT THE WIN AT WATKINS GLEN LAST WEEK? «Oh, I think if you look at the win in Sonoma we won it by fuel mileage. We were not really the fastest car. We’ve dominated a lot of races and haven’t been able to close the deal. To go out there and dominate the way we did was nice.»
WATKINS GLEN WAS ONLY TWO HOURS 23 MINUTES. IT WAS THE SHORTEST RACE OF THE SEASON. DID IT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT? «Yeah, I don’t think about it. I was kind of shocked when they said okay this is the last pit stop. I was like are you serious? We’re just getting started here! But that last thing we pushed really hard and it was really exciting. You just push and you think about how many laps there are to go and it’s good, you know?»
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET ADJUSTED TO THE LENGTH OF THESE RACES? «You’ve got to learn to ride a little bit. You’ve got to learn to really work on the car and make it better. There are some races where you’ve got to go the whole time. I think track position is so important on these cars that you really gotta go.»
WHICH ONES? THE 300 OR 400-MILE RACES? «No, it’s crazy at what we’re thinking is easier than others. But all we’re thinking is it’s easy you can look after the car a little more. Look after the brakes. I think every race track it a little different.»
DID YOU DO ANYTHING TO CELEBRATE THE WATKINS GLEN WIN? «No, I didn’t. I went home and said hi to the family and the baby and went to sleep and Monday was kind of with the family because I left Tuesday and went to St. Jude Hospital and the Target House Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday I was at the GM Proving Ground (Milford, MI) driving a Corvette and scaring people around. That was a lot of fun. I scared a lot of people (laughs); that was fun. It’s a really, really cool little race track with up and down and off-camber corners. If you’re going to build a circuit, you should go and see that before you do something because it was wow.»
HOW SCARED WERE THE PEOPLE? «Oh, they were sweating a lot and I was driving the car over two laps. I was kind of surprised (laughs). It was fun. I don’t know how they do it but I took all the tracking control and stability controls and switched everything off. You’re power-sliding and spinning the tires in fourth gear and things like that. When you’re trying to hang onto the car at 150 mph with a passenger beside you; you’ve got to be on it and you’re driving the car. I mean as a passenger, I wouldn’t be my own passenger. Put it that way (more laughter).»
WHO WAS SCARED THE MOST? «Oh, some were trying to film and they were bouncing around. I said do you want me to take it a little slower and they are like no, and so I am like okay.»
WAS IT YOUR GOAL TO SHAKE THEM UP A LITTLE BIT? «No, I drove within reason. I leave always a little bit of margin, especially in the faster corners. The slower ones, I really go at it and do a little drifting here and there and it’s just fun. It becomes fun for me as well because you’re enjoying yourself and I was very impressed with the car. I was really impressed with the car. I drove a Corvette many years ago, but when you drive on the street you never really know what the car can do. And this was like a track day. And this was an awesome race track. So it was fun.»
HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS YEAR VERSUS LAST YEAR ABOUT NOT MAKING THE CHASE COMPARED TO LAST YEAR. ARE YOU MORE RELAXED? «It’s annoying because we had led a lot more laps and been a lot better in qualifying and speed-wise we’d been a lot better and we still were only 200 points away with all the screw-ups. You know what I mean? It is what it is on one side. But on the other side, I think it’s a good lesson for the whole team to learn, and for myself to learn, then you’ve still got to bring the car home.
«But I think at the same time we can take a lot more risks now and take these races to really understand and bring the car to a new level. I think if we screw up the set-up and we finish 20th, it doesn’t really matter. I mean am I going to finish 19th or 20th in the points? Who cares? I don’t.
CAN YOU WIN HERE? «We have a pretty good car. Can we win? I don’t know. This is the place where we always can run like a top five all day and at the end of the race we just can’t really get the car to work as much as we want. We’re trying a lot of different stuff this week and if it works, I think we have a chance.»
WHAT DOES YOUR TEAM NEED TO DO THE LAST PART OF THE SEASON TO GET BETTER? «We have the speed. Our pit stops are getting a little better. We have the speed. We’ve just got to execute a little better. I think we can execute. Myself as driving and them with the car and everything a little better I think that’s all we need. You know we’ve got to become contenders for the title. We don’t want to be contenders for the Chase. And to do that, we need to learn to execute better and make better calls; more aggressive calls, and take two tires and see what happens and make it better. Why two tires? Like last time here I was running third. We put two tires and at the end of the run on two tires I was 18th. And then you’ve got 60 laps left and you ain’t going to come back, you know? Once you get back there, you’re screwed. So, why those two tires didn’t work? So we did it a little bit different. At Chicagoland we kept our ground. So we know if we’re going to do that you’ve got to be a little bit different and we’ve got to keep working on it.»
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO DIFFERENTLY? «In Watkins Glen, I looked after the car a little more than normal and it really paid off. I looked after the car and the equipment a little more; the brakes. Especially when you’re out front you can really stage the car and it will make a difference at the end of the race.»
HOW IS IT GOING FROM 19TH IN POINTS ONE YEAR TO BEING A CONTENDER FOR THE TITLE, NOT JUST A CONTENDER TO MAKE THE CHASE? IS THERE ANY INDICATION THAT IT CAN BE DONE? «Well, we have seven DNF’s and I’m 200 points away. You put those DNF’s where we could have won races and stuff and to a 15th place finish, we’d probably be like 6th in points. So we have the speed. I think if we were in the Chase, I still believe we’re still missing a little bit to go after the championship. It’s step-by-step.
«Over the years we’ve been getting better and better. If we keep doing that I think the championships and more wins will come.»
ON THE UPCOMING RACE AT BRISTOL, YOU DON’T WANT TO GET CAUGHT UP IN A WRECK LIKE LAST TIME «We were running really good and a bump stop gave out. We got really tight. We didn’t know at the time what happened. It got really tight and I lost position and they all wrecked in front of me and I just became a passenger. It’s what happens. But at the time, I thought what did we do wrong? And then you realize something failed on the car. But at that time, you don’t care. It’s like oh, we had a chance at winning this and no why are we so far back?»
DO YOU ENJOY THE VARIETY OF TRACKS FROM SHORT COURSE TO ROAD COURSE TO THE BIG TRACKS? «It’s never the same. You come to a place here where you hardly ever touch the brakes to a road course to a half-mile and crazy-banks and then you go to Atlanta; it always changes and it always keeps it interesting.»
HAVE YOU PAID ANY ATTENTION TO THE SCHEDULE CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR? «No. I haven’t. I heard they are taking one of the Atlanta races and I think that sucks. And right now the crowds are not great but the racing is probably one of the best.»