The Hot Pass: Montoya a team player
Juan Pablo Montoya didn't make it through the first lap of practice before damaging the nose of the No. 42 Chevrolet.
Montoya, who is currently third in points, got into Jeff Burton before the No. 31 Chevrolet was up to speed.
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"He was coming out of the pits and I was coming through (turns) three and four and he stayed on the bottom," Montoya said. "I was right on him and we both got wide open and then out of the corner he just checked up."
Montoya's average starting position has been 5.25 since the Chase started. On Thursday night he was 18th in time trials with a lap of 189.467 mph. Still, Montoya doesn't believe the front-end damage affected his qualifying lap.
"I got tight in three and four," Montoya said. "I'm sure it's not ideal, but we'll fix the car for the race. We'll be fine.
"We're just doing what we can. If it works, great. If it doesn't, well. As long as I give my best, I'm good."
Montoya has not been just "good" during the Chase, he's been solid. In the first four races, Montoya has averaged a 3.5 finish. After qualifying, he hung out with his crew in the garage offering moral support if nothing else. Montoya was playfully chiding crew chief Brian Pattie while the team fixed the damage to the body and radiator.
For Montoya, building camaraderie with his team when things go awry will balance the tough times on the track during the heat of battle.
"We're trying to be smart," Pattie said. "Everyone wants him to be aggressive, but that's the part I don't want. I don't want him to be aggressive at the wrong time. Racing three wide with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon)? Great. Absolutely, have fun. But to knock somebody on a straightaway and roll the splitter up and damage our car to the point where it handles differently? I don't like that part.
"Last year when it went bad, it went worse. This year is different. Last year we would have continued to go backwards. This year we rebound a little bit better and come closer to closing the deal. We haven't closed the deal to the point of going to victory lane, but we've learned to make an eighth-place car a fourth-place car. That's what you have to do this time of the season."
In his third season on the Sprint Cup tour, Montoya is the only driver spoiling the Hendrick-powered domination of the top-five drivers in the point standings. There have been moments throughout the season that have challenged him — whether it was his on-track altercation with Johnson at Kansas two weeks ago or the fender-bender with Burton during practice.
But Montoya has raced long enough to know to realize some things are out of his control.
"Yes, it was frustrating what happened in practice," Montoya said. "Everybody gets frustrated when stuff like that happens. But we worked on it. We tried to make it the best we could. We had a great qualifying lap. We just got tight in three and four and I lost a half-second. I'm OK with it."
"We have good cars. It makes my life a lot easier. It shows where the team is and where the team is heading. If it's not fun, why are you here?"