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Previews, predictions and stats for Juan Pablo Montoya and the No. 42 team
Juan Pablo Montoya will forever be remembered in NASCAR lore after his No. 42 broke a rear suspension piece, spun sideways and slammed into a jet dryer that then exploded during last year’s Daytona 500. Little did he know that the dangerous race-delaying inferno-turned-season-long punch line would be the only explosive highlight worth remembering from his spectacularly dismal 2012 campaign. Now, Montoya heads toward a 2013 season hoping that NASCAR’s new car design and the litany of changes instituted by his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team early in 2012 will finally pay off.
That massive overhaul, which included the release of NASCAR lifers Tony Glover and Steve Hmiel, has been a massive disappointment to date. In the aftermath, Montoya limped through his worst season statistically since his return to stateside racing in 2007. The No. 42 Chevy, with first-year crew chief Chris Heroy, managed only two top-10 finishes, and only four times had consecutive showings of 20th or better. Worse, he scored zero top 5s and finished on the lead lap just 13 times — failing to even make a dent on his bread ’n’ butter road courses, where he staggered to 33rd- and 34th-place finishes. Montoya, 22nd in the 2012 point standings, was never a contender for Chase consideration — undoubtedly a surprise following team owner Chip Ganassi’s assertion before the season that 2011 was a “pathetic” performance for the EGR group and that improvements would need to be plainly visible.
So, in 2013 Montoya will strap into the newly designed Chevrolet SS with a new set of horses under the hood. EGR announced in the latter stages of the 2012 season that Montoya and teammate Jamie McMurray would pilot machines with Hendrick Motorsports horsepower, ending a partnership with Earnhardt-Childress Engines that began in 2009. The move came on the heels of Ganassi saying on multiple occasions that he felt his team was behind the competition in straightaway speed, a notion Richard Childress disputed.
Heroy, an engineer from Hendrick Motorsports credited with assisting Mark Martin’s incredible resurgence in ’09, remains atop Montoya’s pit box this year. The problem for him isn’t technical experience, it’s reining in his driver’s aggression — an aggression, manifested time and again with several veterans, that exemplifies the old “I’ll race him the way he races me” mantra.
For a team already struggling to keep pace, the use of NASCAR’s new car coupled with a switch to a new engine platform could be the great equalizer. Instead, Montoya will remain exiled from Chase contention again this year. Such are the perils of driving for a two-car organization that is already two-tenths behind in today’s NASCAR — even with the sport’s testing ban relaxed considerably. Don’t expect Montoya to be on the hot seat at EGR in the near future, though, as his relationships with Ganassi and sponsor Target seem unflappable.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
After a promising 2008 when Juan Pablo Montoya made the Chase, results haven’t been there for the former Formula-1 pilot.
“Juan has a lot of talent,” a rival crew chiefs says. “He is a lot like Robby Gordon — he has as much talent as anybody out there, but at times he struggles to harness that with the emotional side of things. Being able to marry the emotions and the talent together is hard for him. … Sometimes when you have a 10th-place car and you try to finish ninth or 10th, you’ll be fine. But he can sometimes try and take a 10th-place car and win with it and that gets him in trouble.”
“He’s underrated,” is the opinion of another crew chief. “He can get the job done. When everything is right and the team is in line behind him, I think he has as much talent and ability as anyone. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times his emotions get the best of him.”
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