When NASCAR makes its annual stop at the hallowed Brickyard on Sunday afternoon (July 31), there has been one thing that is almost a certainty each year. That nearly fail-proof guarantee is that Juan Pablo Montoya will dominate the Brickyard 400. In three out of the last four years, excluding the 2008 “Tire-Gate” fiasco, Montoya has been a legitimate contender for victory. His 2007 rookie year, he finished second. In 2009, he led nearly 120 laps out of 160. Last year, he led 86 laps.
But, the caveat in these dominating performances is much like Dan Marino’s in his Super Bowl years with the Miami Dolphins; even with the impressive stats, the holy grail of victory has somehow eluded Montoya. In 2009, he had his victory coronation spoiled by a pit-road speeding penalty, the equivalent of having the winning powerball lottery ticket and accidentally throwing it away. In 2010, a late-race call to take four tires instead of two left Montoya mired in mid-pack. In his hell-bent haste to charge back to the front, he had a collision with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that thwarted any hopes he may have had of victory again.
The question has not been “Will Montoya dominate?” but instead “How will Montoya shoot himself in the foot again this year?” In recent weeks, with the demotion of long-time crew chief Brian Pattie and his seemingly endless parade of pissed off competitors, one has to wonder if the pressure of competing in NASCAR and still, despite his international track record, being a bit-player in the eyes of American NASCAR fans has finally started to wear on Montoya.
Then again, Indy could very well be just what the doctor ordered for Montoya’s on-and-off-track inconsistencies. As well as he has fared the last two years at Indy, it’s outright foolish to not include Montoya as at least a pre-race favorite. If he can just race with his head instead of his foot and avoid the tragic pratfalls that have mired him at the Brickyard, then Montoya will perhaps finally get to not only kiss the bricks, but also silence his detractors by finally winning that first elusive oval victory in NASCAR.
Montoya is now officially a veteran in NASCAR, with four and a half full-time seasons under his belt. But what has he had to show for his efforts in NASCAR besides a pair of road course victories over his career to date? He certainly has not lit the world on fire since he arrived in stock cars.
That said, he hasn’t been a colossal bust either. He has shown signs of having the potential to break through with that first oval win with his great runs at Indy and Las Vegas earlier this year coming to mind. So while Montoya hasn’t been the superstar some thought he would be, he’s certainly not been an also-ran like so many of his former Formula 1 competitors that have tried to make it in NASCAR. Montoya has actually been competitive for the most part, but it has yet to translate into victories.
Montoya knows he is not getting any younger and it is very hard to picture him driving at the age of a Mark Martin in NASCAR. He knows that his window of opportunity for success in NASCAR is slowly closing a little more each day. There actually seems to be a sense of urgency in Montoya perhaps driving his recent aggressive nature.
He seems to know that the time for him to be a major player in NASCAR is now, and if he doesn’t do it soon, then he very well may have to sum up his NASCAR career as a disappointment.
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