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Montoya, Wingo hope to bottle that winning formula

7/26/2007 - NASCAR

LOUDON, N.H. -- Donnie Wingo was tightening screws on the roof rail of Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 Dodge when a NASCAR official noticed the car was taking a winding rout into the inspection area.

"Hey, Bobby," the official said. "They think they're on a road course."

Wingo, who helped Montoya get his first Nextel Cup victory a week ago on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., remained focused on tightening the screws as the crew adjusted the path of the car.

The official, obviously trying to get a reaction, then yelled, "Donnie, heard everybody on the team got a big raise after last week."

Wingo turned his head ever so slightly to acknowledge the comment, rolled his eyes and went back to work without saying a word.

Little excites Montoya's crew chief, which is a good thing since Montoya is very excitable.

The two are about as opposite as they come in the garage. Wingo was born and raised in Spartanburg, the heart of the Bible Belt in South Carolina. Montoya was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, often referred to as the "Athens of South America."

Wingo came from old-school stock-car racing, beginning his career in 1989 with Bud Moore Racing. Montoya came from the highly technological world of open-wheel racing that has taken him to exotic places Wingo only reads about.

Wingo likes the red-tinted hot dogs at Martinsville. Montoya won't touch them.

Wingo talks with a slow Southern drawl that is sometimes muffled by a wad of tobacco.

"The first time I met him he was chewing tobacco and spitting it into this little [cup]," Montoya recalled. "I was, 'That's a little weird.' I had never seen that before."

Montoya talks with a Spanish accent that sometimes races faster than his car.

"The first time we worked together in Daytona he asked where I was and I said I was in the queue," said Montoya. "He was, 'Where are you?' I said, 'I'm in the queue already.' He said, 'Where?' "

Despite their Lucy and Ricky Ricardo-like communication barrier, the two get along as well as any driver-crew chief in the Nextel Cup garage. Wingo respects what Montoya can do with a car and Montoya respects what Wingo can do with a car setup.

"It's simple," Montoya said of their relationship. "When you work with somebody that wants to win and you can feel they're working as hard as they can to get you there, it's not hard to like that person."

Montoya is used to winning, taking the checkered flag in everything from the Monaco Grand Prix to the Indianapolis 500. Wingo hadn't been a winning crew chief at this level before last week since 1992, when he won twice with Geoffrey Bodine.

His only other victory came with Morgan Shepherd in 1990.

"Too see his smile on his face when we won at Sonoma, it was huge,"
Montoya said.

But as Wingo was reminded on the plane ride home, life gets back to normal in a hurry. During what was supposed to be a brief stop in Oklahoma City for gas, the ground crew pumped 3 too many gallons of blue water into the bathroom toilet.

By the time the overflow was cleaned and the plane was back in Charlotte, N.C., Montoya had teed off for a round of golf.

When you work with somebody that wants to win and you can feel they're working as hard as they can to get you there, it's not hard to like that person.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Winning didn't get Wingo any favors as he went through initial inspection on Friday, either. The nose didn't completely match up with NASCAR's template.

Wingo didn't panic.

"We'll get it fixed," he said.

Whatever they did worked. Montoya qualified fifth, his second-best starting spot since beginning the transition from Formula One to stock cars. Wingo hopes that is a sign that the second half of the season might bring more success after a first half that has Montoya 20th in points.

"When we go to these places the second time around we'll be better, he'll have a better idea of what the car is supposed to feel like after 20 laps on the tires on a run," Wingo said.

"That's one of the things that's hurt us a little bit early, is him knowing exactly what kind of car he needs after 15 to 30 laps."

Montoya trusts Wingo implicitly. He seldom if ever questions a change in setups.

"You make your point to him and end the discussion there," Wingo said. "There's certain situations where we've had a problem with this and that, and he wants to go on and on about it, but once you make your point he understands and he carries on to something else."

Passion is the biggest thing that bonds Wingo with Montoya, although Wingo shows it in a less excitable manner.

"He demands a lot," Wingo said. "Like this past week when we didn't qualify good [32nd] we had to really get to work. We had to figure out a way to do something. He made that clear to everybody.

"He doesn't like settling for a 15th-place finish. In some places some people feel that's good if he's at a place he's never been. But he feels like we've run enough now where we ought to be better than we are, and I agree with him."

Wingo doesn't think it will be long before the two find themselves in Victory Lane on a track besides a road course.

They came close with a fifth-place finish at Atlanta. Their starting position and final practice speed on Saturday -- Montoya was second to Jimmie Johnson -- gives them hope it could be on Sunday.

"It'll happen," said Wingo, antsy to get back to work on the car. "It'll happen."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.