Has Montoya Checked out?

Juan Pablo Montoya nearly won his first oval NASCAR race two weeks ago at Dover, only to lose the race to Tony Stewart in the closing laps.

But you’d never know it by the way Montoya drove or the way he reacted in his post-race interviews. For the former open-wheel standout, it seemed like just another race; certainly not the closest he has come to gracing Victory Lane since his last win nearly three years ago at Watkins Glen.

What happened to the Juan Pablo Montoya who swore on “my children and my wife” that he wasn’t speeding on pit road late in the 2009 Brickyard 400? An irate Montoya delivered a memorable, emotion-filled plea to NASCAR over his team radio after being penalized for speeding on two segments of pit road in a pit stop while leading the race with less than 30 laps to go. “If they do this to me, I’m going to kill them,” he said of NASCAR. “Thank you, NASCAR, for screwing my day. We had it in the bag and they screwed us because I was not speeding.”

He sure sounded like a man who wanted to win that race. But nowadays, he doesn’t sound, act or drive like a man who cares about winning much of anything that requires a steering wheel.

The Columbian is in his seventh full Cup Series season with Chip Ganassi, and in 231 starts, he has only two wins, 22 top-five and 54 top-10 finishes. In 2013, he has two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 14 races, and is 22nd in points. No doubt, though, Montoya’s performance has picked up the past few weeks, and his team seems to be the best it’s been in quite some time.

But I’m still not convinced he cares. The fiery driver that entered NASCAR back in 2006 isn’t the same one who drives the No. 42 Chevrolet today. The guy that went head-to-head with drivers like Kevin Harvick doesn’t seem to be riled up by anything anymore. Take it from me — there is something to be said for controlling your temper and emotions, but there comes a time when you need to show some emotion and some ounce of desire and interest in what you’re doing.

Montoya looks to me like a guy who is just riding around, making laps and collecting a paycheck. He doesn’t seem any more excited to finish second, as he did at Dover, than 42nd. If he wanted to win, why didn’t he battle Stewart any harder? He was going for the win on that final restart but didn’t do a damn thing to hold off Stewart. When a driver gets to that point, it’s time to hang up the helmet. Montoya was leading the race and he didn’t even go on the restart. He was caught sleeping. Did he forget he was about to win his first race since August 2009? Did he forget he is the quarterback for a team desperate to get back to Victory Lane? Or does he simply not give a damn?

Where is the fire in the belly? Where is the emotion? Where is the drive?

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid that’s all gone. And if it’s gone, then it’s time for Montoya to be out of the No. 42 car. But I think he’s already checked out.