|JPP -- Chase Contender|
He’s still got a long, long way to go, but Juan Pablo Montoya is looking like a possible Chase contender.
Talk about a Wild Card.
Montoya has always been one of the hardest guys in NASCAR to pass (along with Ryan Newman). Pass at your own risk. Bump him once and he’ll bump you twice – only harder.
It’s still not easy to pass Montoya – and it shouldn’t be – but he’s finally getting better at playing the game. During the Dover race, Montoya was bumped and passed first by faster Kurt Busch and later by Jimmie Johnson. Each time everyone held their breath and waited to see what would happen. Montoya let them know he wasn’t happy with a nudge back, but in a way that didn’t wreck both cars, as often happened in the past. Newman still needs to learn that lesson, as we saw at Dover.
Montoya also seems to have learned after eight years that he’s not going to win every race. It used to be if the car wasn’t right, he’d try to carry it, often crashing. Dover race winner Tony Stewart has noticed a difference.
“I think he’s come a long way in this series,” Stewart said. “There’s people that you enjoy racing and that you hope you have that battle with when it comes to racing for a win. Juan is on that list of guys that I respect and would want to be in that scenario with.”
Montoya’s new driving style comes at the same time the Ganassi Racing cars are benefiting from the off-season switch to Hendrick Motorsports engines. He already has three top 10 finishes this season, one than he had in all of a disastrous 2012. He was a contender to win at both Dover and Richmond, two tracks where you would never think to put him your fantasy team. He seems on the verge of winning his first oval track race.
Montoya is still 22nd in points, so his best hope to make the Chase is to win at least one race, two would be better, while moving into the top 20 in points. And with the two road course races still on the schedule, where he has his two career NASCAR victories, he has chance, I think a good chance.
Montoya back in the Chase. That would be something to look forward to.