Juan Pablo Montoya: NASCAR newest free agent (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Wonder just what's going on here:
Juan Pablo Montoya just joined the very impressive roster of NASCAR free agents, with team owner Chip Ganassi, his boss throughout Montoya's six-plus years on the stock car tour, deciding not to renew his contract for another season.
That means Sprint Cup team owners working the marketplace now have Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Montoya to consider.
Montoya is an Indy-car champ, an Indy 500 winner, and a seven-time winner on the Formula 1 tour.
Newman has won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
Busch won the 2004 NASCAR championship.
Any of the three would be a prize catch.
And if anyone over at Chrysler-Dodge is looking for a re-entry point, this looks like an excellent opportunity.
Montoya, 37, and Ganassi have been inseparable over the years. They were headliners on the Indy-car trail until F1 picked up Montoya. And when Montoya became too jaded with F1 -- amid complaints his driving style was too aggressive -- Ganassi quickly took the opportunity to bring him into NASCAR.
That was late summer 2006.
Montoya fit in well with the stock car bunch. But he's only managed two wins. And lately Montoya has seemed down in the dumps about his mediocre performances.
But is it Montoya or is it the Ganassi operation itself?
Except for Sterling Marlin's impressive 2001 run, and Jamie McMurray's stunning 2010 -- winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the fall Charlotte 500 -- the Ganassi camp hasn't really been that successful.
McMurray's last win was nearly three years ago.
Ganassi has reshuffled his operation over the past two years, switching from Richard Childress engineering to Rick Hendrick engineering, but still without much to show for it. Over his 12-plus seasons on the Cup tour, he has 10 wins: four with Marlin, four with McMurray, two with Montoya.
Sponsor Target has been the anchor for the Montoya-Ganassi team.
A beautiful Sunday at Watkins Glen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile, how's NASCAR on TV?
Over the first three weeks of the ESPN/ABC half of the season, it's two ups and one down.
Sunday's Watkins Glen race was down a tick from last summer, pulling a 2.6 rating, compared to 2012's 2.7.
However ESPN says it's TV ratings were up 10 percent two weeks in a row prior, for the 'second half' kickoff Brickyard 400, and for the Pocono 400, and that Kasey Kahne-Jeff Gordon finish.
The top TV market for the sport, in terms of percentage of viewers tuning in, continues to be the Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point market, which has been the sport's leader for years, even overshadowing Charlotte.
ESPN's 2.7 for this year's Glen translates to 4.1 million viewers.
TV broadcasts of the Watkins Glen event have been on the downside for five years now.
Looking at the NASCAR Glen on TV since 2001:
2001 (NBC) 4.7 rating
2002 (NBC) 5.3
2003 (NBC) 5.6
2004 (TNT) 3.6
2005 (NBC) 5.2
2006 (NBC) 4.6
2007 (ESPN) 4.1
2008 (ESPN) 3.6
2009 (ESPN) 1.7 (Monday/rain)
2010 (ESPN) 2.9
2011 (ESPN) 1.3 (Monday/rain)
2012 (ESPN) 2.7
2013 (ESPN) 2.6
Better times for Juan Pablo Montoya. Now, what's next? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)