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Pedley: Montoya Makes Point Of Telling It Like It Is

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 28 2009
Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya share thoughts in the New Hampshire garages. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya share thoughts in the New Hampshire garages. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

It’s like a mantra for NASCAR drivers. It’s a standardized response which appears to be taught to them during initiation ceremonies into the NASCAR-driver club in true Free Mason fashion.

Saying that NASCAR drivers always race for victories and never for championship points, you’ve got to believe, is drilled into incoming drivers’ subconsciousness during candle-lit initiation meetings.

How else to explain its frequency of use and uniformity of wording in NASCAR garages?

Well, apparently Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t get the word. Not a candle-lit meeting, blood-oath kind of guy, perhaps.

Whatever, because there he was in the infield at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend swimming up stream when it came to the always/never thing concerning points racing.

“You’ve got to be smart about what you do,” Montoya said when asked about his strategy in last weekend’s road-course race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

In that race, Montoya, perhaps the best road-racer in Sprint Cup, had a good car but not a great car. He had an Earnhardt Ganassi Chevy that was good enough to carry him to a good finish, but not to a victory.

His better instincts kicked in and he settle for what he could get, late in the race, and came home sixth. It was his second straight sixth-place finish and it gave him his third top-eight finish in four weeks.

And, it allowed him to move into the top 12 in points which is big, of course, because the top 12 in points make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and that playoff is now just 10 races away.

So, obviously, what Montoya did at Infineon was the smart thing.

“I didn’t think we had the best car there but I think if we would have pushed we probably could have had a little better result but at the end of the day I rather finish sixth than 25th being spun by somebody,” the native of Colombia said. “That happened last year. (Marcos) Ambrose spun me last year and I wanted to avoid that especially in a place like Sonoma where everybody runs on the lead lap. You get spun you don’t go back to 15th or 20th you go back to 35th and you do want to do that with 10 laps to go.”

What Montoya also did was shine a light on the mantra.

NASCAR drivers are quick-draw artists when asked about points racing. They don’t do it, they will snap back when asked about it.

And they snap like crazy during those times when the debate about awarding more points to race-winners is raised.

Won’t help in the fight against dull racing, many will say. Won’t help because drivers always race as hard as humanly possible for race victories. You could add 10 more points for a race victory or 100: Won’t help.

Except that it will, if you read between Montoya’s lines.

Asked if he found it frustrating to points race at Sonoma, he said, “No, it’s what this sport is all about. It’s all about making the Chase and we’re doing everything in our power from the team to myself to the crew chief making the calls and being smart. I think if you could run like top-five every week then you could get away with being a little more aggressive. We’re not. We’re running top-10 not top-five. We’re making a lot of changes in the car, finding new ways to make the car faster. I don’t think we want to bring this to the wire. It might happen but if we can avoid going to Richmond being on the bubble that would be awesome.”

Somewhere in the garages at New Hampshire, initiate drivers were gripping their chests.

Montoya explained his feelings on points racing. Part of his past, his upbringing, the former Formula One driver said.

“In Formula One at the end of the day it was the same thing, its points racing,” Montoya said. “You want to win races but at the end of the day you’re sometimes better finishing third than getting involved in a wreck. It’s the same thing. You just got to be race smart. It’s not cautious, just a little more smart.”

Montoya, of course, is right. And he really wasn’t revealing anything race fans don’t already know.

Yes, race-car drivers are smart. They have to be to stay alive. And that is stay alive on the race track and in their pursuit of series championships.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 28 2009
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