By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
There are few Sprint Cup driver-crew chief combos that needed a win any more than Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Pattie, who got that victory on Sunday at Watkins Glen International. It was Montoya’s second as a Cup driver and Pattie’s first ever in NASCAR’s elite division. And it came after the two had very public disagreements over the outcomes of the two previous races.
In the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the No. 42 team dominated the race only to lose to teammate Jamie McMurray, who took two tires to Montoya’s four and held on for the win.
The same situation played out again the next week at Pocono. But this time, there were no late-race caution flags to force teams to choose a pit strategy, and Montoya drove away from Kurt Busch and Marcos Ambrose to score the win.
In his winner’s interview, Montoya seemed more relieved than anything, now that he can put the past two weeks behind him.
“[The] last few weeks have been really frustrating for the whole team because we’ve been so close to victory [and it] seemed to keep slipping away,” he said.
“To come out and get the job done the way we did, it was big. I feel more relieved than happy right now. It’s been a really hard road in a way. It’s been a lot of fun; it’s been frustrating.
“To finally get that first win for Brian, I think it’s good. I think we can really focus on just getting the job done …
“I think this will really bring the team together and bring great things for the future.”
Montoya also said a meeting on Saturday, one called by car owner Chip Ganassi, helped too.
He said the meeting “was all about making sure everybody is on the same page, everybody has to do their job, and we came out today and everybody executed.
“It’s something Brian keeps saying, ‘Keep saving the car, keep saving the car, keep saving the car,’ and it paid off.”
Montoya said any problems between him and Pattie come about because they’re both driven to win.
“As competitive as I am, he’s as competitive with the race car,” he said. “I think we both come here every weekend with one goal: win. When the wins slip away, either my fault, his fault, I think the fault doesn’t really matter. When you go home empty-handed, it’s frustrating.
“We have to learn how to make better judgments, myself make better calls when I’m driving, help them make better calls. I think we’re really working together and understanding what needs to be done to win those races.”
Pattie, who was quite emotional after the race, said the problems between him and Montoya weren’t as bad as they might have sounded to those listening to their radio transmissions in the heat of battle.
“When you’re passionate about winning races at this level, the closer we got, the worse it got for our frustration level,” he said.
Even with the Glen win, it’s unlikely that Montoya and Pattie will make the cut for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins after four more races. He’s 19th in the standings, 205 points short of the top 12. And his teammate Jamie McMurray, who has already won the sport’s two biggest races, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 along with runner-up finishes in three other races, is a longshot at best for the Chase. He’s 15th in the standings, 94 points out of 12th place.
Montoya said it’s ironic that his team’s improved speed isn’t helping them points-wise.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “I think last year we didn’t have the pace we have this year and we made the Chase pretty easy, I thought.
“This year we had two cars capable, easily making the Chase, and both cars are out.
“That’s what it is, I guess.”