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NASCAR's Most Improved this season? No question, it's Juan Pablo Montoya | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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NASCAR's Most Improved this season? No question, it's Juan Pablo Montoya

   JPM: one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR this fall (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   For a man who made quite a reputation, a career even, racing road courses around the world, Juan Pablo Montoya says, perhaps improbably, that he doesn't really care for racing NASCAR stockers on NASCAR road courses.
   Actually the question Friday was pretty simple, really: Could NASCAR stockers, these 3400-pound machines that rip around Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., put on a decent show in Abu Dhabi or Shanghai?
   Abu Dhabi just debuted on the Formula One circuit, and the spiffy new $1 billion facility looks pretty slick. And NASCAR team owner George Gillett is working a Saudi connection for what could be a Middle Eastern stock car racing series.
   And the Chinese now have the biggest car market in the world, an amazing highway construction program well under way (spending $150 billion a year now, compared to the U.S.' $65 billion a year), and a world-class road course in Shanghai, the 'city of the future.'
    So, could Montoya envision wheeling one of these NASCAR machines around the Yas Marina Circuit on the Persian Gulf, or around 上海國際賽車場 , as the Shanghai International circuit is known.
    Montoya did a double-take at the question, but quickly said a curt "No."
   And then he added "I wouldn't take it to a road course at all, to be honest.
    "I've driven race cars like Formula One on road courses and open-wheels (Indy-cars) on road courses. This (NASCAR) is fun on an oval; this is not much fun on a road course personally.
    "It's kind of weird -- I know a lot of people love road courses, because it's different from what you do all year, and from a perspective it's fun and the racing is cool.
    "But these cars really shine on an oval, at places like here and Atlanta and Miami."
    Well, sure. But until the New York Speedway is finally finished, NASCAR will have to make do with racing the Glen, and until California officials okay adding a Bristol half-mile to the San Francisco area, NASCAR will also have to make do with Sonoma's Infineon.
    So what would Montoya suggest to make NASCAR stockers more fun on road courses?
    "Take about 2,000 pounds out of the car, and add another 2,000 pounds of downforce, and they'll drive really well," Montoya replied with that wicked grin.
   Yes, road racing for Montoya, except for NASCAR's annual summer stops at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., is pretty much history.
   NASCAR is now his world, and he's been having a ball with it, to be honest. And this season more than ever. And it shows.
   Since making the championship playoff cut in September the Colombian star has been in the center of something of a media hurricane, and he's been working on adapting. After all, F1 has a decided different take on media and the racing garage, and NASCAR's sheer openness, on both fronts, can be a bit daunting.
   But Montoya is getting there.
   Of course it helps that he's having his best season yet on the stock car trail. Just a year ago Montoya crashed five times in the final 10 races (and posted nine DNFs for the year) and wound up 25th in the standings.
   This fall Montoya had five top-fives in the first six chase races (three thirds and a pair of fourths). If not for that restart bump with Mark Martin at Charlotte two weeks ago, Montoya would have an excellent chance at winning this season's title.
   If NASCAR had an award for most-improved, it would have to go to Juan Pablo Montoya.
   Yes, Montoya is still winless for the season, but he's been close several times.
   "We've always been pretty decent here," Montoya says of this 1-1/2-mile oval. "We were not that good in the race here (in April) and we still finished like sixth or seventh.
    "Since our cars have improved a lot, it's hard to tell what is going to happen. I hope we can go out there and win the race, to be honest. Here you can run against the fence and make up good ground especially in turns three and four. And I'm learning to run the bottom (too)."
   Montoya says it may seem odd but it's easier racing when you're up front with the good teams than it is when you're stuck back in the pack. "If you make a (chassis) change, and it doesn't work, you're confident enough that your car is good enough that you can give people a little more room," Montoya said.
   "When you are running 18th or 20th , you're at the point if it goes green for a long time you can get a lot, so you've got to get going all the time, and it's a little harder.
   "It's crazy: You look at our first season (2007) and it was horrible. It really wasn't horrible but we only had one top-five -- And then we won in Sonoma (that summer). Our performance is getting better, we're getting closer. Hopefully it's just a matter of time.
    "How many top-fives do you have to run until you win a freaking race?
    "It's been a great season. If you look back a year ago -- where we were in points and where everything was going, and where we are right now – it's been a great season. We're a lot better than anybody expected: Not only that we made the chase but right now we're not far from the Hendrick cars. We're the only car running up there with them."
   What's all the more amazing is that Montoya has really done this all on his own – teammate Martin Truex Jr. hasn't really added much this season, and he's leaving at the end of the season. On the other side, rival Rick Hendrick has six teams to draw from.
   So who will be Montoya's teammate next season? There are a lot of possibilities; Jamie McMurray might have a shot, though it's unclear if team owner Chip Ganassi will hire him back.
   Montoya brushes off the question: "Somebody is going to be driving the car. I don't know who. I don't really ask that. I concentrate on what I've got to do myself.
    "If Chip has a question or wants my opinion, I'll give it to him. Otherwise he runs the team and I drive the car."







Yes, I agree, he is going to a great NASCAR driver, but don't forget Reutimann he is just as good.

Very good point. DR should

Very good point. DR should have made the chase too....who was it again that knocked him out of it? DR has such a cool attitude about all this too.....

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