Keeping Pace

Is Juan Pablo Montoya Naughty Or Nice In Chase For Sprint Cup?

Juan Pablo Montoya, whose only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came at Infineon Raceway in 2007, gets ready to practice for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) (Todd Warshaw / The Spokesman-Review)
Juan Pablo Montoya, whose only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came at Infineon Raceway in 2007, gets ready to practice for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) (Todd Warshaw / The Spokesman-Review)


Winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship isn’t quite as difficult as dropping Guitar Hero down the chimneys of every kid on the planet overnight, but it comes close. Juan Pablo Montoya’s wish list, although short, is a focused and comprehensive one.

Guest Column By Cathy Elliott

At the start of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Juan Pablo Montoya and his No. 42 Target Dodge team got together and made a plan. They decided what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it.

Then, lo and behold, they went out and actually did it.

Since the day Santa Claus first set a daunting goal for himself -- to deliver toys to all the good children on earth in a single night –- people have been making lists. And checking them twice. Or, in the case of Montoya, checking them 26 times.

To accomplish a seemingly impossible task takes an awful lot of preparation. It also requires a keen eye. One must be able to have a clear view not only of the forest, which is the big picture, but also of the individual trees that must be gotten around, climbed, or if necessary, simply chopped down to make one’s way through.

One of my favorite quotes comes courtesy of Albert Einstein, who said you have to learn the rules of the game, and then you have to play it better than everyone else. To do this requires determination, talent, some amount of luck, and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned hard work. Those are all positive things, right?

Of course they are. So one has to wonder why the hammer is coming down so hard on Montoya all of a sudden.

Here’s the deal, in case you missed it. Since the race at Richmond on September when the 12-driver field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup was set, Montoya has openly admitted that his strategy since the onset of the season has been to race for points and to accumulate enough of them to make the Chase.

Stop the presses.

Call the law.

Alert the NASCAR authorities immediately.

This cannot be happening. Montoya has publicly stated to the world that he actually schemed, planned and plotted to make the Chase. Can things like this happen in America?

They can, and they did. Heading into the race at Dover, Montoya sits fourth –- fourth!-- in the driver standings, ahead of guys AKA former champions like Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. He gained seven –- seven! -- spots in the first Chase event at New Hampshire International Speedway. He sat on the pole for that race and was a strong contender for the win all day.

When the going gets tough, the tough get on the gas.

If you listen to sports talk radio, frequent NASCAR-friendly Web sites or watch a lot of racing on television, you are already aware of the hue and cry
surrounding this issue. How dare Montoya deliberately race for points? How can NASCAR tolerate someone so calculating that he actually made an effort to figure out what he needed to do in order to contend for a championship? What nerve, to “work the system” like that.

What a sandbagger.

I have to say this is one of the silliest things I have seen or heard in a very long time, and that’s saying something. What we’re lacking here is that elusive thing called perspective.

Regardless of each individual’s opinion on the subject, the Chase has changed the way everyone –- drivers, teams, sponsors and yes, fans –- looks at NASCAR.

Psychologically speaking, we now have a segmented season. Back in the day, the stretch of time between the season-opening Daytona 500 and the final race of the year loomed large and long. But nowadays, we have the equivalent of that lovely musical term called an interlude. At race 26, we get a rest stop on the road. We reset our odometers and get ready for the home stretch.

It’s the same basic format followed by every professional sport; only the elite can earn the ultimate prize. The cool thing about NASCAR is that everyone gets to go all the way, but only 12 of them are eligible to get there first.

A good plan is like a road map, or for our purposes, a track map. It shows the final destination and the best way to get there.

For example, consider the guy who works his way through a series of complicated numbers and formulas, putting in whatever amount of time is needed to figure out all the different, confusing systems he needs to understand in order to be the best. He takes things apart and puts them back together again in the proper order so many times that he might actually be able to do it in his sleep. If something just doesn’t sound or look right, he has an excellent idea of what it is and how to fix it. The end result is that we applaud him, trust him and richly reward him for his efforts.

Do we call this guy a sandbagger? Nope. We don’t even call him Chad Knaus. We call him a doctor.

Instead of criticizing what may seem to us a strategy lacking in passion, perhaps instead we should acknowledge Montoya’s effort. We need to realize that success in NASCAR means so much to him that he has basically set aside his ego -– the chance to knock some other guy out of the way for a single victory here or there -- in order to place himself in a position to wrap his hands around the brass ring every driver reaches for.

Winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship isn’t quite as difficult as dropping Guitar Hero down the chimneys of every kid on the planet overnight, but it comes close. Montoya’s wish list, although short, is a focused and comprehensive one.

Every accomplishment begins with a simple decision to try. And Santa always knows. So come Christmas morning, don’t be too terribly surprised if Juan Pablo Montoya finds just what he asked for sparkling underneath his tree.




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.




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