FOX Sports Exclusive
Montoya wins on a road course: No big surprise
The grand finale in Sunday's Busch race was certainly grandioso by all means. Juan Pablo Montoya obviously had the fast car. His bad luck in the pits turned out to be his good luck on the track by virtue of having better tires than everybody else. On numerous restarts at the end of the race, he just blew by cars left and right. It was obvious that he was on a mission. He had a great car, and after all, he is a great road racer. Formula One just runs on road courses, and Montoya just won the 24 Hours of Daytona. If you read my column last week, I told you to put a little money on Montoya when we get to the road courses because that's his cup of tea. Even though he's done other things, road courses are his area of expertise. When he gets to a road course, he's kind of like a Robby Gordon who has mainly won races on road courses. His win in Mexico may have very well saved that race. Finally, someone who made his name in series other than the Busch and Cup ranks came in and was competitive. That's just what the race needed. His win could really turn around that race. Going into Turn 1, Montoya made a pretty low percentage pass. When you dive-bomb in there like he did, you're more than likely going to make contact. Bumping and running if you just bump a guy, move him out of the way and go by is one thing, but spinning and winning? I don't know how popular that's going to make him with him competitors. Racers get pumped up and give it all they have when the have an opportunity to win their first race. I can certainly understand those emotions.
I don't know if Juan thought about it or not, but he probably won't see Scott Pruett again until the Cup cars go to the road course at Sonoma. It's not like Pruett's going to be in Vegas, and Montoya will have to deal with him when he gets to the races this weekend. What happened in Mexico is going to stay in Mexico for a while. Hopefully something like this incident won't happen in Vegas because whatever happens in Vegas on the racetrack will not stay in Vegas. I can assure you of that. At California Speedway, Larry McReynolds, Mike Joy and I had a little meet and greet with Montoya. It was obvious that the man is very focused and committed. He really wants to be successful in NASCAR. By talking with him, I could just tell that he has the desire, and by watching him, I can tell that he has the ability. He has everything it takes to be a star in this sport. I was skeptical in the beginning about the transition, but I've been really impressed with the job he has done. I was even more impressed after sitting down and talking with him a little bit. He just had a real presence about him. He knew it was a big task, but he knew what he had to do. He had his act and his thoughts together. He had a game plan. I felt really good about what he's trying to do after meeting with him.
One of my first questions was what made him decide to do the NASCAR thing. I asked if it had anything to do with trading his F1 car for a Cup car a few years ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Jeff Gordon. In fact, it did. When he got in Gordon's car, he was very surprised by how well it drove, handled and ran. He didn't think that stock cars would have the handling characteristics and driveability that they did. He was also surprised by how quickly he adapted to it, how comfortable it was and how the design of the car was much more sophisiticated than he had thought it would be. If you want to look back at when Juan thought coming to NASCAR might be fun and might be a good idea, it started with Tradin' Paint at Indy on June 11, 2003. At one time or another, all of us who have been in this sport have been called into the Big Red Truck by NASCAR officials and been given that speech. I refer to it occasionally as "you need us more than we need you." We've all had that fear put into us because it's true. Most of us need NASCAR a whole lot more than it needs us, but Montoya might be the exception because of who he is and what he represents in the Hispanic market. NASCAR needs to give its diversity program some real credibility so Juan might be the first guy who can walk in and say, "You all need me a whole lot more than I need you." He has that kind of presence in our sport. Based on what I saw and what I know, he and the people around him can manage that presence very well. I feel pretty good about what he's doing and what he represents.
Oh, by the wayPeople are always asking me about the Busch Series and short-track racing in general. The Busch Series has lost its identity to Cup drivers and Cup cars. When NASCAR started taking the Busch Series off of the short tracks in the Southeast particularly like South Boston, Hickory and Martinsvilles it lost places to develop new talent like Denny Hamlin, Stacy Compton and a few other guys. They came right off of the short tracks, got an opportunity in Busch and then moved up to Cup. One of the problems with the Busch Series is it's pretty much all superspeedways now, and the cars are identical to Cup cars. The only difference is the wheel base 105 inches in Busch to 110 inches in Cup. I was trying to think about the Car of Tomorrow and all of the positives that an owner can find when he considers how much it's costing him and what the payoff will be. If NASCAR were smart, they would take the Cup Car of Tomorrow remember the extra large or XL Cup car or the Dodge Avenger and Chevrolet Impala and make that body style and configuration the Sunday car. Then take the current Cup car the Monte Carlo, the Fusion, the Camry and the Charger and make it the Busch car. There's nothing wrong with the current car. It's a safe, good car.
The current Cup owners would have a place to get rid of their obsolete fleet of cars. They could sell them at bargain prices so Busch teams could afford to buy the cars. It would put a lot of new equipment into the Busch Series, and it would give a lot of young drivers an opportunity to drive first-class equipment. You would have the Car of Tomorrow/XL Cup car in the Nextel Cup Series. The current Cup car would become the Busch car, and then you've got the Craftsman Trucks. All three series would have their own identity. That's what they need. Put the Busch cars back on the short tracks like they used to run and give them an almost unlimited supply of cars that owners and new teams could buy at bargain prices. It would pump up the Busch Series and be a win, win, win for everybody. That's my suggestion for the current car, which would provide a way to bail out Cup owners and give them a small return on their investment.