“I don't even know if we are ready yet,” said Juan Pablo Montoya when he was asked whether he and his No. 42 team have the experience and expertise to run for the Sprint Cup title.
That attitude seems to sum up a team and a driver who are exploring virgin territory, currently sitting fourth after a third place finish at Loudon, the first of the ten post-season Chase races.
Montoya and his team have been one of the surprises of the season so far making the Chase (the first Chip Ganassi driver ever to make the cut) despite not having notched a win all year, and after an off-season that saw his Ganassi/Sabates team merge with DEI into a two car operation entering Montoya and Martin Truex Jr. for the full season, and saw the Columbian move from a Dodge to a Chevrolet.
“We didn't merge because we were in need of merging,” retorts the Columbian when asked whether the merger was because of a lack of resources within one, or both, of the teams. “We merged because we thought it would make us a better race team.”
However, while the changes may have improved the race team, Montoya also cites crew cheif Brian Pattie, who moved with the driver in the merge for the jump forward.
“My relationship with Brian has gotten a lot better, so we understand a lot better each other. When I mention something to him he understands better what I want out of the car, and likewise….I'm a lot more comfortable when he makes changes now.”
But despite, or perhaps because, of the changes the team remained realistic. “Right now, it's fun,” says Montoya, about being in the Chase. “For us, our goal this year was making the Chase and we did so. Anything that happens from now to the end of the year, it's a bonus.”
“I think for the team's like the 48, 24, all of the good Hendrick cars….it was a different story.”
However, don't expect that to mean Montoya will be happy to finish the season 12th in the points standings. “There's no holding back, nothing, we have to go. We have to try to go every week.”
And the chances of Montoya actually winning the series, well, he is cautiously optimistic of his chances at the upcoming races, but perhaps hints are the great unknown of the Chase races.
“Our mile and a half cars are really good, and all of the fast racetracks, our cars are normally better,” he says. “It might happen and you might get a lock in if you don't wreck in Talladega.”
“We just take it as it comes.”