Racing doesn’t come as easy to Juan Pablo Montoya these days.
Over the past two NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has finishes of just 21st and 22nd in the final point standings. Last season was his worst to date in the Sprint Cup Series with only two top-10 finishes. Currently 23rd in the points after a 19th-place finish at Las Vegas, he explained that makes the whole process difficult.
“When you’re running good, things are easy,” he explained. “You get to the race track, the car is quick, it’s easy. When you’re bad, you have to work so hard at it, make sure you leave nothing behind. You have to turn every stone, and make sure you build some momentum.”
The good news for Montoya is Sunday’s Food City 500 is the next race on the schedule. The 37-year-old Colombian driver tied his season-best finish with an eighth-place run at last year’s race.
However, those numbers are not what Montoya is accustomed to.
He’s a former Indy 500 champion, a CART Series champion, a seven-time Formula One winner, a two-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner and a two-time Sprint Cup Series winner.
Despite all the impressive credentials, Montoya said a driver has to look at himself when the team isn’t performing up to standards.
“It’s not about doubting yourself, but you have to look at yourself and make sure you’re driving the car properly,” he said. “I made the Chase before, won races and even then you start thinking you need to try something different. You just have to look at yourself and make sure no stone is unturned.”
Although the Earnhardt-Ganassi team has gotten off to a slow start the first three races of this season, Montoya isn’t making any predictions on what the future holds.
After making the Chase in 2009, he finished outside the top 25 in five of the first races the next season. It showed Montoya that nothing is ever certain at the top levels of racing.
“I’m very self-conscious about how good are we going to be,” he said .”We’ve been very good in testing and I don’t want to get overly excited. I will be very happy if we go out there and start winning races every week. If we can get back in the top 10 every week and get consistently better, I will be happy with that.”
Bristol looks like a good place to start.
Montoya has been fast from his first year on the high banks, qualifying on the outside pole for the 2007 August night race.
In addition, he has been relatively successful at dodging trouble, running at the finish of all 12 Bristol races he has entered.
One factor which Montoya doesn’t worry about is adapting to NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car. Montoya explained that major changes to the cars don’t come along with stock cars near as often as other forms of auto racing.
“The people in NASCAR get used to the same car year after year,” he said. “I came from a world where every year the car used to change. Even Indy Car, it would change year after year -- the rules, the tires -- they always changed.”