End of the Line for Juan Pablo Montoya?
One 500, One Victory
- Montoya Speaks on Leaving Formula One
Interview taken from colombian newspaper El Tiempo about Montoya's departure from F1
Re-live Great JPM Moments on DVD
Team owner Chip Ganassi announced Tuesday that Juan Pablo Montoya would not be back with the team in 2014. Montoya has been a mainstay with Ganassi over the years, driving for him in both the open-wheel CART series and the stock car Sprint Cup series. Montoya has proven over the years to be among the most talented yet temperamental drivers in the garage. It seems that after six years in a Sprint Cup car, Juan's talent is no longer worth the trouble for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. With few high-level rides available and a history of on-track problems, his departure from EGR may prove to be the end of the line for Juan Pablo Montoya in NASCAR.
Prior to joining NASCAR in 2007, Montoya had found success at virtually every level of racing he'd tried. He won 10 races and a series championship in two years running for Ganassi in CART. His lone race under the competing IRL banner, the 2000 Indianapolis 500, also ended in a Montoya victory. He spent five and half years racing in Formula One, competing against some of the best drivers and high-tech cars known to man. During his time there, Montoya had 13 pole starts, seven wins and 30 podium finishes including a win at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix. While he never won the F1 championship, technology levels had more to do with that fact than his in-race skill.
Those equipment discrepancies were in large part why Montoya left F1 for NASCAR in the first place. He felt that he'd accomplished every goal aside from winning a championship and that goal was beyond reach because of the team he drove for (see link below for an interview Montoya conducted shortly after leaving F1). He's stated in multiple interviews since leaving F1 that he has zero intention of returning to the series because little has changed- the car is still far more important than the driver.
Montoya During His Formula One Days
Montoya Clashed With Teammates
A Long Running Dance Partner
Yet there always was more to the story than simple boredom and the desire to try something new. Certainly his move to live in the United States and be able to drive closer to his growing family played a role in the decision. But a cursory look at Montoya's pre-NASCAR history shows that even when he was winning Montoya had issues with both his own team and his fellow competitors. Few F1 drivers shed a tear when JPM left for NASCAR despite the implied insult of his calling NASCAR a greater challenge. His own team pulled him out of the car after news of the upcoming move leaked, despite Montoya having never finished below sixth in the F1 season standings and his numerous race victories.
Those issues followed Montoya when he began racing stock cars. In seven years racing for Ganassi, JPM has gone through a series of different crew chiefs. The longest and most successful pairing came with Brian Pattie, who helped Montoya reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2009 and finish the season in 8th place. Since their split in 2011, the revolving door of crew chiefs has begun anew with two different chiefs in the last two years.
Montoya's on-track issues with competitors have also played a role in his failure to succeed at the Sprint Cup level. His first season included a memorable face-to-face meeting with Kevin Harvick in the middle of the Watkins Glen road course. Since then, he's taken full advantage of the, “Boys have at it,” mentality. He's been involved in numerous wrecks with drivers such as Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer . Even Jimmie Johnson, not exactly known for his fiery personality and willingness to trade paint, has had issues with Montoya.
Montoya's Memorable Confrontation With Kevin Harvick
To his credit, Montoya seemed to realize how constantly feuding with other drivers impacted his ability to win races. In a 2011 interview with USA Today, Montoya noted, “You've got to be smart. There's so many races here, especially in these cars and running side by side with people around you all the time. Over the years, you learn to play the game.” Unfortunately, while Juan understood the principles involved, he struggled with putting the words into action as he had a notable run in with future 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski.
Montoya Interview from 2011
- Juan Pablo Montoya discusses 'bad guy' rep
USA Today interview with Juan Pablo Montoya from 2011, where Montoya addresses his on-track feuds, his departure from F1, and the reason he came to NASCAR
Montoya and Ganassi
So as his career with Chip Ganassi comes to a close, it's difficult to say right now whether or not Juan Pablo will find an equivalent ride for 2014. He's made a lot of enemies and very few friends. Watching the #42 at plate races earlier this year was a telling fact in that respect as Montoya found it difficult to get anyone to pull out of line with him. Normally, a veteran with his level of experience would have little trouble getting a dance partner in the draft. Montoya spent most of the day dancing alone.
Whether Montoya's Cup career to date is a disappointment or not probably depends on the expectations he's measured against. The organizational stability and level playing field that Montoya sought in coming to NASCAR never materialized; his team has gone through numerous reorganizations and resets since 2007. He's switched manufacturers (from Dodge to Chevy) and then switched engine builders (from Earnhardt Childress to Hendrick). Ganassi's crew chief swaps have made it difficult for anyone to be around long enough to truly understand what Montoya needs out of a race car. Despite the upheaval, Montoya has run up front at both road course and oval tracks. A pit road speeding penalty cost him a win at Indy a few years back but he's led laps. When the equipment has been competitive, he's been a factor.
Kyle Larson Is Waiting For A Chance
But Tuesday, Ganassi finally said that seven years is enough. Montoya is no longer transitioning to Cup racing; what he is now is what he will be. Juan Pablo Montoya is a hotheaded driver who is not likely to win a Sprint Cup championship. He'll put your car in the headlines but he will never put your car at the top of the points. Perhaps that's an unfair judgment and maybe Montoya will prove it wrong somewhere else in 2014. But with Montoya's contract expiring after this season and Kyle Larson waiting in the wings, it's a judgment that Ganassi had to make.
Montoya's options will likely be determined by his ability to bring in a sponsor. Previous speculation had it that Target might be willing to move with Juan to a new team but Ganassi squashed that in his announcement of Montoya's firing. Target is on board with EGR for 2014 and Montoya is not. If Montoya is able to find a sponsor who believes his controversial image works in their favor then JPM has a few doors open. As noted earlier this week, Richard Petty Motorsports is a particularly intriguing choice. Marcos Ambrose has yet to announce his 2014 plans and that might open the #9 car. The team has an excellent road race program thanks to Ambrose's presence and Montoya, while not a championship contender, is someone that could improve their all-around results.
More Family Time?
Grand Am/Rolex Cars Next?
Aside from RPM, most doors in the garage seem closed to Montoya. Without question, one of the lower tier teams such as BK Racing or JTG Daughtery would love to have a driver with his credentials on board. But Montoya has made plenty of money over the years and his move to NASCAR was one done out of a desire to compete. It's hard to see him willingly taking a car that has little opportunity of doing so. He may end up moving over to a full time ride with a Grand Am/Rolex touring group, going back to the road course racing he's previously proved so successful at.
Or perhaps at 37 years of age, this is the end of the line for Juan Pablo Montoya. He's won three out of the eight Grand Am races he entered so it's hard to think that the series would pose much of a challenge to him. CART folded a decade ago and its successor, the Indy Racing League, doesn't seem like a good match for Juan's temperament given the rules on blocking and car contact. His stance on Formula One hasn't changed since he left and it's doubtful that any high-end team now in the series wants the headache. That doesn't leave Montoya with much in the way of options. So if this proves to be Montoya's swan song, at least we can say that he's gone out with a bang.