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NASCAR Season Preview: Juan Montoya

Photo credit: Kim Phillips (CC)

#42 Target Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Born: September 20, 1975

Home: Bogota, Colombia

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Montoya started the Sprint Cup season off hot, finishing sixth in the Daytona 500 and third at Las Vegas, and winning poles at Auto Club in March and Richmond in April. He was strongest on the series’ largest tracks, performing well at the first Pocono race, leading 38 laps and finishing seventh. He also finished every race, one of only three drivers to do so. On the sports car front, Montoya finished second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Montoya’s Richmond pole run was ruined after multiple on-track altercations with Ryan Newman, as four consecutive finishes of 23rd or worse from Talladega in April to Dover in May knocked him out of Chase eligibility for good. In the end, Montoya could not muster a win, only had two top five finishes, and ranked 19th in points after plummeting to as low as 23rd.

SEASON OUTLOOK: After a lack of chemistry with Brian Pattie ended a relationship dating back to Loudon in June 2008 (ironically, Pattie was fired after that same race last year), Montoya struggled to right the ship with interim crew chief Jim Pohlman. This year, Pohlman has been reassigned within the team in favor of former Hendrick Motorsports engineer Chris Heroy, a man who many within the Earnhardt Ganassi organization hope will be the latest in a long line of great crew chiefs to come from that team.

Heroy’s job will be to help turn around a team that came crashing back to earth after an improbable Chase run two years ago and hasn’t seen the same heights since. Montoya posted some of his worst numbers since 2008 and failed to score a victory for the third time in five full Sprint Cup seasons. For all of the accolades that he’s earned in single-seaters across the world, the painful truth is that it’s just too difficult to switch disciplines as far into one’s career as Montoya did. The question is how much longer the competitive Colombian will be willing to put up with being an also-ran if Heroy doesn’t make some major changes.

– Chris Leone

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