Win helps Juan Pablo Montoya forgive
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- The first thought that came to Juan Pablo Montoya's mind when he saw the checkered flag Sunday wasn't a screaming, "whoopee, we won."
"Sorry about last week again guys," Montoya said calmly. "A great job today by everybody. We've been working really hard for this."
Crew chief Brian Pattie, the man who has taken the brunt of Montoya's anger the past two races and a guy who said a few nasty things himself to his driver, was all smiles and a few tears.
"Way to go, big boy,'' Pattie said. "You drove the race of your career buddy. Zero mistakes. That was tremendous."
NASCAR racing at the Sprint Cup level is about winning. This win was about forgiveness.
An apologetic driver wanting to make amends to his team. A crew chief wanting to show his driver they could do better.
"It's huge," Pattie said, choking up as he spoke. "I still want to win on an oval to prove a point. But the Brickyard two weeks ago was my fault. Hopefully this makes up for it a little bit."
The Brickyard 400 appeared to be Montoya's race to win before Pattie opted for four tires on the final pit stop. It dropped Montoya from first to eighth, and then he wrecked as he overdrove the car trying to get back to the front.
The frustration of that day boiled over a week later at Pocono when the team had a strong car again. A slow pit stop came when Montoya rolled a little forward. Pattie suggested Montoya needed to work on his stops. Montoya's response was, well, let's just say less than pleasant.
So the talk all week heading to The Glen was whether these two men would stay together much longer. But a meeting with team owner Chip Ganassi helped clear the air.
"We had a great talk with Chip," Montoya said. "It's simple. As competitive as I am and Brian is, every week we have one goal -- to win. To come so close the last few weeks and see it slip away was very frustrating for everybody."
The frustration ended on the type of track where Montoya is at his best. Sunday was his second career victory in Cup, both coming on road courses. His first win was at Sonoma as a rookie in 2007.
That was a fuel-mileage race. This one wasn't. The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen was a superb show between two international road racing stars -- Montoya and Marcos Ambrose.
Midway through the race, they battled for the top spot like there were two laps to go, neither man giving an inch. But Ambrose had handling problems after the final restart and Montoya pulled away. Kurt Busch earned his best road-course finish by passing Ambrose for second place at the end.
"I felt today was a moral victory for us to come in between those guys," Busch said. "Those are two world-class road racers and I learned a lot. It was a big day for us."
It also was a big weekend for Ganassi, who went three-for-three for the first time in his career with victories in Cup, IndyCar (Dario Franchitti at Mid-Ohio on Sunday) and Grand-Am (Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas at Watkins Glen on Saturday).
But Montoya's victory was a healing process. This was Pattie's first win as a Cup crew chief. It couldn't have come at a better time, helping repair the damaged feelings among the members of the No. 42 Chevy team.
"Today was spot on," Pattie said. "You have to be passionate at this level. The closer we got [without winning] the worst the frustrations got."
When Montoya stopped the car on the track after his victory lap, the entire crew ran out to greet him. All was forgiven.
We're going to have good weeks and bad weeks. You'll still hear things on the radio. That's how we are. But we've got to learn not make bad judgments, myself and everyone.” -- Juan Pablo Montoya
"I feel more relieved than happy," Montoya said. "This really will bring the team together. Last week [at Pocono] was a misunderstanding on the radio. I went too far with it."
But Montoya is a volatile guy, so he warned everyone that tempers will flare from time to time.
"We're going to have good weeks and bad weeks," he said. "You'll still hear things on the radio. That's how we are. But we've got to learn not make bad judgments, myself and everyone."
Montoya made the Chase last year and entered 2010 with expectations of contending for the championship. That won't happen. He's 19th in the standings, still too far back to make the playoff.
But he's come closer to winning far more often this year than he did last year when the team played it safe in order to make the Chase.
And he watched his teammate, Jamie McMurray, win the two biggest races of the season in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
"We focused on the Chase last year and it was all about the numbers," Montoya said. "But this year we had three DNFs in the first five races. So we got more aggressive and a lot of mistakes came."
The mistakes led to the confrontations that got ugly between Montoya and Pattie.
"We gave away some races and everyone was fighting," Montoya said. "But despite that, we have great relationship and understand each other."
Forgive and forget. For Montoya and Pattie, that's the message. And a victory sure helps.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
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