Juan Montoya has two-career wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, both coming at road courses. His most recent win in the series came in 2010 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The circuit makes its yearly visit to The Glen this weekend for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355. In all, on NASCAR’s two road courses — Watkins Glen and Sonoma, Calif. — Montoya has tallied eight top-10 finishes in 13 starts. On Tuesday, Montoya participated in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference to discuss the upcoming race at Watkins Glen, and road racing in general, among other things. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. I was just wondering your general reaction to Tony Stewart’s injury and the fact that he’s going to be not racing at the Glen where he was obviously going to be one of the favorites along with yourself and some of the others. I was also wondering if you could touch on your experience missing races when you injured your shoulder in 2005 and what that was like to be sitting on the sidelines.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, to be honest with you, I think what Tony is going to go through is pretty bad. After what happened to Leffler earlier in the year, everybody was like, ooh, do we want to keep racing sprint cars and stuff. I’ll tell you, NASCAR really does a very good job for safety. The truck standards, the car standards are so much better today. I’ve been here for seven years, and seven years ago it was good, and nowadays with the new cars, the cars are really, really safe.
I feel really comfortable. Not having Tony there this weekend, it’s a shame, because as you said, he’s always a contender. He always runs well there. He’s going to be missed.
Q. I heard you on a show last week talking about Sonoma versus Watkins Glen, and I know it’s real easy, a lot of people want to compare the two, but I thought you had a pretty interesting take where you were describing Watkins Glen favoring road racing skills a little bit more than Sonoma does. Could you elaborate on that?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, my honest opinion, it’s fine because the first place ever I drove in the U.S., I did my driving school in Sonoma. I did the Skip Barber Driving School back in ’92, and that for me I thought was a really awesome racetrack. In a Cup car it’s actually a really easy track. It’s a lot of — you can’t hustle the car. It’s a place where it’s all about timing it and being smooth on the throttle.
As a road racer, you don’t have a big advantage because there’s nowhere where you’re, okay, you need big cojones to go through the corner. You don’t have that in Sonoma, where in the Glen all the esses, going over the curves and the backstop, it’s always a challenge, and for guys that run in ovals every week, that is very difficult. And for me my background is road racing going over curves and hustling the car, that’s what it’s all about.
And something that has been really cool this year is with the new Gen-6 car, it’s so much more agile on road cases, and that makes it so much more fun.
Q. Is there any other tracks that maybe are not on the NASCAR schedule maybe that you’ve driven before that you’d like to see as far as road racing goes?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, sometimes I kind of envy the Nationwide guys when they go to like Road Atlanta. There’s a lot of cool places where they go that we don’t, the way our schedule is, to get new races and new places, but Road America would be a great place. Road Atlanta, oh, my God, that’s a place (inaudible).
Honestly, there’s a few places like mid-Ohio, like mid-Ohio, I think mid-Ohio would be a fun place. It’s a slow track kind of like Sonoma, but it’s got a lot more corners. So what happens for me for Sonoma is, like the best part of the track was the loop and we don’t use it. Same thing at the Glen. It’s interesting because you talk to drivers and sometimes we gossip, and we all say, man, why we don’t run the boot, and they think the lap is too long with the boot and it would take too much time to go around all the track, but I think it would be an awesome track using the whole track.
Q. I’m curious, you don’t run a whole lot of races beyond Cup. I’m curious, do people ask you often to run either Nationwide or other events, and do you not do them because you just simply don’t want to, or do you want to avoid any sort of risk of injury?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, to be honest with you, I’m surprised that I don’t really get asked that much to be honest with you, especially like road racing. I think people — I’ll be honest with you, I was pretty outspoken especially earlier when I was doing the Nationwide races that I felt like it was too much. I felt like we were doing too much racing, and it was too much, so I think people think that I don’t want to do them.
But I think if a good opportunity would come to drive a road course — a Nationwide on a road course, I think I would probably do it. I would have to ask Chip’s permission first, but I think he would be okay with it.
Q. And looking at the Glen and the fact that you’re about 21 points or so out of 20th, do you look at this as any sort of opportunity that if you can win that you’re still Chase eligible?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Oh, absolutely. There is a lot of really good races coming that we’ve been very close to winning this year that going there we know we have a chance, and you know, we know we’re throwing a lot of points away. We ran out of gas with one lap to go at Sonoma, for example, running second, and we converted a second-place finish into a 36th-place finish. We can’t do that.
Like same thing this week, I made a mistake, we had loose tires in the pits, we had a gearbox failed. Everything freak that could happen has been happening, so it makes it a little hard.
But we know that if we go to the Glen — and we’ve been testing. We did VR test before Sonoma, and we did a Road Atlanta test, and we feel our car is really, really strong, and if you normally look at my performance in Sonoma compared with the Glen, in Sonoma I can run okay but I’m never really good, and this year I probably had one of the best cars there.
So going to Sonoma with the car the way it was and heading to the Glen this weekend, I’m really excited.
Q. You and Marcos Ambrose both have two wins in Cup and all four on road courses. Do you ever think about that?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Oh, that we won on road courses? Of course we do. And on ovals, as well, it’s what we’re here for. 90 percent of the season runs in ovals. It’s not that we’re not trying. I’ve been very close, a lot of opportunities, we’ve thrown them away. We’ve found ways to screw them up. But to tell you the truth, as a team we keep our head up and we keep fighting, and believe me, we believe we have a chance. We really, really believe that we have a good chance.
We’ve just got to make sure — the way we do it, like probably Marcos and myself, the only thing we need to do at the Glen to have a chance of winning is not screw up. Yeah, honestly. If we have 10 pit stops, we’re in the top three. I’ll guarantee you we’re in the top three. Worst case scenario we’re fourth. If we run out of brakes we’ll finish fifth.
Q. Just to follow up on the earlier question about Tony Stewart, Tony is the boss there at Stewart-Haas, but are you surprised that his sponsors let him do this, let him go out and –
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, that’s just Tony. I talk to Tony sometimes, and this year he was so excited he was going to go over 100 races in a year. It’s like for him, making 100 races in a year was a big deal. And you don’t see the dangers. You don’t think it’s dangerous, but there’s always a risk factor; you know what I mean? It’s racing. There’s nothing you can do. And when you’re the boss, as well, it’s a little more flexible, I think.
Q. You’ve driven on some of the world’s best road circuits and have won at Monaco, Watkins Glen and elsewhere. How does the Glen rank with some of the other courses you’ve raced on around the world?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think the Glen is a great place. It’s one of those — I don’t know how to explain it to you, but it’s got a lot of character, and it’s got the classic character of a really good track. If you notice through the years with Formula 1, with safety and everything with the safety, the tracks, especially in Europe have lost a lot of character, especially with the Formula 1 races because the runoff areas are so far away. You know what I mean? I think it takes a lot of the challenge.
And the Glen has that. You go through those esses, the top of the esses, the exit is the guardrail. I mean, oh, my God, if you get it wrong there it’s going to hurt.
Q. You’ve come very close to winning on ovals this year. Would winning on an oval in NASCAR be especially meaningful to you?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’ll tell you the truth, in a way it has really sucked that we haven’t won yet because we’ve been so close so many times, but at the same time we see it as that’s racing, and we can’t do anything about it but just keep working on it, and I think if we keep our head down it’s going to happen.
This year I felt like we’ve been closer than ever, and I think as a team we’ve just been doing a really, really good job, and we’ve been really proud of all the guys, how hard they’ve been working this year.
You know, you see our team where they came from last year, how far off we were last year to where we are right now, I think it’s been really, really exciting to see.
Q. Have you had an opportunity to watch Kyle Larson race? The fact that he’s been added to the roster as a development driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, have you had time to spend with him? What do you think? What do you think his prospects are moving forward?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I think he seems to have a lot of talent. He’s been doing really good things. With every young driver there’s weeks where they’re better than others, but I always believe that’s kind of normal. You can’t expect a young kid to nail it every week, but I think he’s been doing a really good job. Chip, he saw an opportunity to have a young guy for the future, and I think it’s great. I think it’s great for the team and it’s great for everybody.
Q. Can you just talk about what Shine has brought to your team over the last year and a half?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I’ll tell you, when Shine came aboard it was hard at the beginning. I think his point of view and my point of view were very different, what I wanted out of the car, what he wanted to bring to the table, and I think that made it hard in the beginning of the relationship, and I think as time went by he got more experience. We got better at working together.
Right now we do a really good job. We work really well together.
I’ll give an example. The last couple weeks we felt we’ve been unloading a lot better, but through the weekend we haven’t gained enough. We go testing, and when we go testing we feel we work the same way but we gain on the car a lot, and if you can see everywhere we test, we’re very, very competitive. And we felt like, you know, we’re maybe trying to do too much, and we sit down and we talk about it.
It’s something that is really good with Shine. It’s something that we don’t have to — you know what I mean? I tell him, if you don’t like it, tell me. If I don’t like it, I’m going to tell you. We have a very open relationship. We know what we want to do, what we need to do, and I always say, if you feel I need to do something different, tell me. If I want or need to do something different, I’ll tell you.
It’s very open. He’s a really hard-working guy, so it’s fun. Right now it’s fun because we go every week, we run good, we qualify better. I think my qualifying average is like 13th this year, that I think is pretty good compared to like — I think it’s 10 or 12 places better than last year. So it just makes it — it makes it fun to go to the racetracks and know that you’re going to be good and you’re going to be competitive.
Q. Have you used all your tests this year?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, not yet. We’ve still got some.
Q. What are your plans going forward for your remaining tests?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you or if I can tell you. We’ve got a plan; put it that way.
Q. With all your experience in racing at different levels, different sanctions and stuff, do you think it takes a special level of skill to excel at road course racing?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, it’s the same thing as oval racing. I think the way I always seen it, if you’re a good driver, you can drive anywhere. You’ll drive dirt, you’ll drive — you just need a little bit of time and good people around you to succeed.
The problem — you know what I mean? I have a lot of road course experience. I did that all my life, so that’s like second nature to me. You know, we go testing anywhere, tracks that I haven’t been in years, and within five laps I’m on pace, and it’s easy.
Q. Tony Stewart won’t be back for a while –
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Who’s going to replace him this weekend? That’s what I want to know. That’s good gossip right there.
Q. Yeah, it’s wild on Twitter right now; everybody is wondering about it. I talked to Dr. Jerry Punch some time ago about drivers racing when they’re injured, and he said often times they do better when they’re injured.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, look at Brad last year.
Q. Do you feel that way, too?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I think Brad did a really good job last year. You look at every other year from Brad, and last year was exceptional. It’s pretty amazing.
Q. You say you’re more of a road racer. Do you feel like that’s your advantage going into this race? There’s a lot of guys in the circuit, more of an oval race, that’s what they’re more used to in a way.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, there’s some guys that grew up in karting, but if you pay attention to guys that run good now on road courses, a lot of them have karting. They have their own go-karts, and with the track in Morrisville, they all go there during the week. They all practice, so they’re getting better at it. The problem is now they can drive a go-kart, and that’s where I grew up. I did 14 years of karting. I grew up on that. Now the hard thing is learning the transition from karting to that.
Q. Do you find Watkins Glen to be a bit easier than Sonoma, or are both technical?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think both are technical. I think the Glen is way challenging because it’s got way faster corners like the esses. The risk factor of getting it wrong is a lot bigger at the Glen than at Sonoma. I think at Sonoma you get it wrong you go to the dirt and you come back.
Q. If you would have had the opportunity to use KERS and DRS in F1, how would it have affected your driving style?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I never really drove with DRS or any of that. I think overtaking, it’s an art, and you’ve got to be good at it, and you’ve got to — you know, you’ve got to make mistakes and you’ve got to screw it up a million times to learn to get it right. And that’s how you grow up in racing, and you keep getting better at it, and it becomes like an art.
The same thing overtaking on an oval; it has its own way that you’ve got to learn to do it, and when you figure it out, it works really well. And when you put all those electronic aids, you don’t have to learn to pass anymore. You catch the guy and then your wing drops and you drive past the guy down the straight.
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