NASCAR

Montoya trying to find stock-car groove

Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya has had an up-and-down NASCAR season.
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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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LONG POND, Pa.

Juan Pablo Montoya expects his contract to be signed in the next two weeks.

“It’s all agreed (to) already,” Montoya said. “I’ve been here for friggin’ five years and expect to be here a (boat) load more.”

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Montoya appreciates the less stressful pace of NASCAR. The 35-year-old Bogota, Colombia native raced for Williams and McLaren in Formula One prior re-signing with Chip Ganassi in July 2006 to try his hand at NASCAR. He won a race his first season, qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in his third season and has struggled the last two years.

Montoya acknowledges the transition from road courses to oval has taken time.

“In the five years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot of the ovals — and we do a little road racing,” Montoya said. “But road racing is where I come from. Over the last couple of years, we got the cars closer to where it needed to be but something I’m not used to, when you road race, you don’t think about saving brakes and taking it easy on the car. It’s like one of those deals where the mind just doesn’t compute. I came from Formula One or whatever road racing I’ve done you run hard all day. If you have a good car, you drive away.

“Here, if you have a good car you have to save it or you’ll run out of brakes. That for me has been really hard to comprehend. It doesn’t matter how good the cooling is, if you run hard all day you’re going to have problems.”

Still, Montoya has shown signs of brilliance in stock cars but has never been able to maintain the necessary consistency to be a perennial championship contender.

“In year three, we were where we needed to be, and last year was a difficult year,” Montoya said. “We had so many DNFs (did not finish) that it just put us behind. But I think as a team, this year we started pretty good. We made some changes to the car thinking it was going to be better and it just killed us. May killed it for us.

“I was 13th in points two weeks ago. It’s just hard. It’s so close that I have 30th-place finishes and they’re like DNFs. It really hurts.”

Montoya is currently 20th in the point standings — his lowest ranking of the season. He was as high as fourth following his season-best finish of third in Las Vegas. Since March, Montoya has posted just one top-five (fourth at Martinsville) and three top-10 finishes — including seventh here at Pocono in June.

Prior to the Brickyard 400, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing promoted Jim Pohlman as crew chief for the No. 42 team and Montoya. Pohlman, a former research and development engineer is Montoya’s fourth crew chief in five seasons.

“He’s a really good motivator,” Montoya said. “He works really hard at it. I know he lacks experience, but he has really good people around him. So it’s good.”

Considering Montoya has an 8.2 average finish in his last five starts at Pocono, the No. 42 could jumpstart its program on the 2.5-miler on Sunday. Montoya led 38 of 200 laps in June and finished seventh despite losing third gear of his transmission. Montoya returns with the same car that “didn’t have a scratch on it” after the last Pocono race.

“We made a lot of changes, and we’re going pretty aggressive on the set up — it’s pretty good,” Montoya said. “Last time I struggled with qualifying compared with my race pace and I feel the same way here.

“We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted to, but with strategy and everything, we can do a good job. It’s the way the car works. It’s always a bit of a gamble. When people are taking two tires you might want to take four. If people are taking four, you might want to take two. It’s how you get track position.”

With six races remaining before the Chase, Montoya understands it will take a miracle — or two wins to qualify given his 20th-place position in the points. Despite being the defending winner at Watkins Glen, where the Sprint Cup tour travels to next week, Montoya knows he’s not guaranteed a win.

“You’ve got to get two wins,” Montoya said. “From where I am, you’ve got to get two wins. One win wouldn’t cut it, would it? We were 13th in points two weeks ago and I ran out of gas. We took the safer route last week to make sure we got to the end and both of them bite us. Whatever we do is wrong. When we try to save fuel, everyone runs out of fuel including myself. When we try to go the other way — conservative because people are running out of gas — they don’t.

“So what do you do? It’s just a little bit of luck. And the luck hasn’t been on our side. But the Target team is good.”

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth offered Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard some sage advice: savor the moment.

Kenseth texted Menard on Monday morning before the media blitz began and reflected on a time when the wins weren’t coming with the same frequency as in the past. The veteran told Menard he wished he would have appreciated the wins more.

He's staying

The suspense is over. Carl Edwards will race for Roush in 2012.

Menard took the suggestions to heart.

“It was four hours after the race by the time we got back to the airport. I went home and had maybe two or three hours of sleep,” Menard said. “Woke up at 5:30 Monday morning and got on a NASCAR plane to go to Bristol, Connecticut and ESPN and got to see how SportsCenter and all the different programs up there work, which was pretty cool as a lifelong sports fan.

“We got back at a decent hour and I finally had some time to sit by myself Monday night and have a drink and just enjoy the moment, I guess. And then Tuesday was a little bit slower. I actually worked out with my trainer Tuesday morning and got a little sweat going, so that was good. I did all the SPEED studio stuff on Tuesday afternoon.”

Menard kept the energy rolling at Pocono where his seventh-place qualifying effort (171.370mph) was the top in the Chevrolet camp.

"It was a pretty good lap for the CertainTeed/Menards team,” Menard. “That gives us a good starting spot for tomorrow's race. It's good to get that behind us and now we can focus on continuing the momentum from last week's (Brickyard 400) win."

Menard’s Richard Childress teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick qualified ninth and 10th, respectively.

DIDN’T GET THE MEMO

Apparently no one warned Joey Logano that Carl Edwards was being courted for his ride.

“As far as I knew, they were just rumors,” Logano said. “Until my boss — Joe (Gibbs, owner) or J.D. (JGR president) — tell me I’m not driving, that’s when I know it.”

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It appears that Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing’s senior driver, was more in the loop than the 21-year-old Logano.

“For us, we were obviously interested in having him and things just didn’t work out,” Hamlin said.

Logano has picked up the pace lately. With two top fives and three top 10s in the last five races, Logano has climbed from 23rd to 19th in the point standings. But if you’re Home Depot and the drivers of your competitors, Lowe’s and Menard’s, beat your team most weeks, certainly there would be cause for concern.

Logano’s consolation prize? The pole for Sunday’s Good Sam RV Insurance 500.

SAY WHAT?

There is obviously no animosity towards Carl Edwards re-signing at Roush Fenway Racing by his fellow veteran teammates — well, maybe just a little if these tweets are any indication.

Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth had a little fun at their teammate’s expense on Saturday afternoon.

Biffle: (@gbiffle) Good news Carl resigned but the hype is not over yet, he was in the booth during cup qualifying and did an interview during our lap!!

And Kenseth: (@matt_kenseth17) no, did he whip jack Bauer?“@russman17: @matt_kenseth17 did u know carl edwards did a guest spot on 24?”

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano

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