Montoya Returns to Site of Historic Win at Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway SONOMA, Calif. (June 12, 2008) -- If there had ever been any doubt about just how good a racecar driver Juan Pablo Montoya was, he erased all of it last year at...
Montoya Returns to Site of Historic Win at Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. (June 12, 2008) -- If there had ever been any doubt about just how good a racecar driver Juan Pablo Montoya was, he erased all of it last year at Infineon Raceway.
At the Sonoma road course one year ago, in just his 17th NASCAR Sprint Cup start, Montoya won the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
He did it after starting 32nd, the deepest starting position of any NASCAR Cup winner in raceway history. He did it in spite of never having raced at the 10-turn road course before -- unless you count a three-day racing school in 1992. He did it as a rookie, a first at Infineon.
With that victory, Montoya became the first Hispanic to win at NASCAR's top level, and just the third foreign-born driver in history to win a NASCAR Cup race. But Montoya, a native of Colombia, is used to setting records.
In 1999, he captured the CART (open wheel) championship as a rookie, winning seven races -- including three in a row -- en route to becoming the youngest titleholder in series history. The next year, he triumphed at the famed Indianapolis 500 in his first outing at the Brickyard.
By 2001 he was headed to Formula One, where he earned seven wins, 30 podium finishes and 13 pole positions. In 2003 he claimed one of F1's premier events, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Two years ago, he shocked the racing world by signing to drive stock cars for Chip Ganassi. The open-wheel, road-racing ace was walking away from what most consider the premier racing series in the world ... to race stock cars on ovals?
Yet the odd couple -- who had previously paired up in open wheel racing for Montoya's Indy 500 and CART series titles -- proved to be a near-instant success, winning first at the Telcel-Motorola Mexico 200 Nationwide Series race last March. It was Montoya's seventh start in the series.
Three months later, Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge, notched the win at Infineon in NASCAR's top division. That win put him in elite company, joining racing legends Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win races in the Sprint Cup Series, IndyCar Series and Formula One.
"I would say right now it's the biggest thing I've done in my racing career," said Montoya after winning at the tough road course. "It's unbelievable, actually. In open wheel I was meant to be winning, and in stock cars I wasn't. To get our first win in our first year is huge."
Critics will say that Montoya has done well in the races he was supposed to do well in: the road courses. But Montoya also finished fifth in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta, his fifth career Cup start, and second at the Brickyard 400. He picked up an additional pair of top-10 finishes at Texas and Martinsville.
After a slow start this season, Montoya also earned a runner-up finish Ain pril at Talladega, one of the hardest tracks for newcomers to Amaster.
"I have said many times that what makes Montoya so good is the incredible car control that he has," Ganassi said. "He is running consistently in the top 20 and doesn't have 70 starts in a stock car. It is amazing that he became competitive so quickly. Although he won two races last year, it might be his showing on the ovals at Atlanta, Texas and Indianapolis last year, and the performance in Talladega (this year) that really shows that he belongs."
Those are also the races he's most proud of, both because they didn't come as easily and because he wasn't expected to do as well.
"When I came to NASCAR, I had 20 races on ovals and the rest of my life was on road courses, so road courses are natural for me," Montoya said. "I think on ovals I'm just starting to get the hang of it, and when I get comfortable in the car, I'm competitive."