CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before the race at Indianapolis Motor
Speedway, Juan Pablo Montoya believed he had almost no chance to
make the Chase for the championship.
Then he finished second -- his best career NASCAR finish on an
oval -- and his tune changed a bit. Montoya is 18th in the standings
but just 200 points out of Chase contention with six races left to make the field.
"I'll tell you the truth -- if we could get this kind of finish
the next two races, then you have a chance," he said July 29 at Indy.
With all due respect to the former Formula One star, he's not
exactly been knocking down solid finishes. He won on the road
course in Sonoma, Calif., in late June, but his only other top-five was back in March at Atlanta.
"I am not saying we are giving up," he explained. "But it's
really going to take a couple of wins and a couple of great
finishes and bad finishes by the people in front of us."
He got all that at the Brickyard, where his second-place
finish put him on the same podium as Nextel Cup champions Tony
Stewart (first) and Jeff Gordon (third). It moved Montoya up two
spots in the standings, and he closed the gap on Dale Earnhardt
Jr., who blew a motor and finished 34th. Earnhardt is clinging to the 12th and final spot in the Chase field.
But Montoya remains hesitant, knowing his Chip Ganassi Racing
team is still working toward consistent finishes. NASCAR's elite
teams run at the front every week, while he and his teammates still are working toward that level.
The next two races, at Pocono Raceway and the road course in
Watkins Glen, N.Y., will be telling. If Montoya can gain ground,
making the Chase will be the focus. Otherwise, he'll have to adjust his goals.
"We're not going to give up," he said. "I just think moving
forward, we're going to be trying to get wins more than we are
going to be trying to get into the Chase."
Either way, he and Ganassi are adamant Montoya's rookie season
will be considered a success no matter where he winds up in the final standings.
"I already have my first win under my belt. Do we always want
more? Yeah. But I think where we are, and where we started, I think
it's been a good job," Montoya said. "Who would have bet I won a
race this year? Honestly, there were more people looking for me to fail than to do good."
Q: You really think, that with your resume and experience, people expected you to fail?
JPM: "Not so much in NASCAR, because people in the sport
understand it. But a lot of fans and a lot of outside media, they
expected me to flunk. There were even people who said that by Indy,
I wasn't going to be in NASCAR. That I would have left."
Q: Who said you wouldn't be here by Indy?
JPM: "Robin Miller (SpeedTV analyst) said that."
Q: So what do you say to him?
JPM: "I say that I am happy in NASCAR. I really couldn't be
happier, and I don't care what he says."
Q: The Busch series is going to Montreal this weekend, and you
have raced on that course a bunch of times. What advice can you
offer all the drivers who have never been there?
JPM: "Stay off the walls. Not joking. I am serious."
Q: Why the warning?
JPM: "The way I see it is anyone who put a wheel off in Sonoma,
a wheel in the grass in Montreal will put you in the wall. That's the best way of putting it."
Q: Any regrets you won't be in the Busch race?
Q: You don't like Montreal?
JPM: "I think Montreal is really nice. But I wouldn't be
looking forward to go there and start last and not be able to get
to the front, because there are too many yellow-flag laps. And I
will miss the lobster, but the tradeoff is I will have time to play golf."
Q: The lobster?
JPM: "A restaurant we always go to, Milos. It is a seafood
place, and oh my gosh, it is one of the best places in the world.
Very expensive, but a must-do in Montreal."
Q: So you spent the final off weekend of the season in Colombia. What did you do?
JPM: "I played golf, because the doctor said I could."
Q: The doctor?
JPM: "Yes, I hurt my thumb in Daytona. The doctor looked at it
and said playing golf would not hurt it, but it would not help it heal very fast. So I played golf."
Q: What did you do to your thumb?
JPM: "They said, what is it called when you hurt your ankle?
Sprained? I sprained it. I just jammed it during the race."
Q: How come this is the first anybody has heard of this?
JPM: "I don't know. I don't need the world to know I have a hurt thumb."