Montoya confident in direction of Ganassi team

Updated: September 9, 2008, 7:07 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- He's lost both of his teammates and his primary sponsor, yet Juan Pablo Montoya remains staunchly committed to car owner Chip Ganassi.

So much so, Montoya insists Ganassi is being unfairly critiqued for his struggling NASCAR program.

"I think the NASCAR organization has to go through major changes, and that's the process we are going through right now," said Montoya, a former Formula One driver who won an Indianapolis 500 driving for Ganassi.

"In a way, it's good because everyone who is here wants to succeed and wants to be here. Chip is working very hard to get us better. Are we there? No. But things are starting to click and there's a lot of things coming, and when all those things arrive and you put them in place, we'll be in good shape."

But the organization has weathered several storms this season as Ganassi has tried to get the NASCAR operation on par with his other teams. Scott Dixon wrapped up the IndyCar Series championship on Sunday, and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas sealed the Grand-Am Series title two weeks ago.

Those successes came at a time when Reed Sorenson announced he'll leave Ganassi at the end of the year to drive for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Dario Franchitti decided to leave NASCAR and move back to the IRL and Texaco said it would end its primary sponsorship of Montoya's car at season's end.

Montoya, who was openly critical of Ganassi earlier this season after a series of crew changes, said his boss has everything under control.

"If I wasn't committed to him, and believed in him, then I wouldn't be here," Montoya said. "It's that simple."

The Franchitti move, Montoya said, was the best thing for the entire organization after his failed NASCAR run. Franchitti left the IRL after winning the Indy 500 and series championship, but never duplicated that success in NASCAR.

He missed five races with a broken ankle, fell out of the top 35 in points, and when sponsorship never materialized, the team was shuttered.

"I think at the end of the day, it was as close as (Franchitti) could get to a happy ending," Montoya said. "I think he gave it a try, and at the end he was getting a lot better. But if you look at it for Chip and the IndyCar program, it's the best decision and (sponsor) Target -- they are going to have the last two IndyCar champions and Indy 500 champions under the same roof.

"I think if you look at the big picture, that's a good thing."

Sorenson is leaving after three sub-par Cup seasons with the organization. A young talent who grew up in Ganassi's development system, he's yet to reach the potential the team had for him.

In the final year of his contract, he turned down an extension to drive for a rival Dodge team.

"I think he went and did what was best for himself," Montoya said. "But I think a fresh face would probably help. I think himself here, he had lost a little bit of determination toward what he wanted to achieve."

And as for Texaco, which sponsored the bulk of Montoya's races, the driver isn't panicked. Wrigley's is still signed on for a portion of the season, and Ganassi is working toward securing more backing for the team.

"We knew Texaco was going to go," Montoya said. "For them, it was a business decision. I don't think it was a matter of us not performing and us not being what they expected. They just decided to leave the sport. I'm not very worried. Chip is working on it."

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Montoya's Q&A with AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:

Q: Tropical weather has been a concern the past few weeks, and you live in a vulnerable area -- Miami. How do you handle that?

JPM: We pay a lot of attention. We get advisories at 5 o'clock in the morning and at 11 o'clock in the morning. You always look at it. The simulations, follow where it's going.

Q: So what if the simulation says it's coming to Miami?

JPM: You get in the plane and you leave. You close the door of the apartment and say 'See you later.'

Q: Have you ever had a scare?

JPM: No. They all say they are going to Miami, and at the end of the day they all turn.

Q: But you are on the water, right?

JPM: Yes. 46th floor on the water.

Q: And you've never had a single problem? Never had to get hurricane shutters?

JPM: No. Never. We don't have the shutters. It's a big building with very strong windows. They don't need the shutters.

Q: Tropical Storm Hanna washed out Saturday at Richmond, and you returned home to Miami for the day, I thought maybe you were getting ready for Ike.

JPM: I wasn't going to go home. I went to dinner Friday night and wife called and said 'What are you going to do tomorrow? It's going to rain all day. Why don't you come home?' So I played with the kids in the morning and had lunch with the wife, then went to the warehouse and parked a lot of the cars in the house because maybe Ike comes, and then nothing happens to the cars.

Q: Umm, what's 'a lot' of cars?

JPM: A few cars. My Dodge minivan.

Q: Yeah right.

JPM: I have one. I swear. I drive it a lot and it's great because it has Sirius TV and it has Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. It just comes out of the radio. It came with the minivan. Standard with the minivan. Well, maybe it was an option. But it's great because most of the cars have TVs in the back for the kids and you always put a DVD in there and they love it, but it gets to a point where you can recite the movie and it gets on your nerves. You can't wait for them to fall asleep so you can turn down the volume. But in the minivan, they see something different every time.

Q: Such as?

JPM: Diego. Oh My God. They love it. Sebastian is sort of getting into Power Rangers. He stands on the bed and yells and runs and jumps, and it's all about Power Rangers. Now Paulina, we call her 'Echo' because whatever he does, she does. So if he shouts 'Power Rangers!' and runs, so does she. She's the echo.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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