Montoya thrives on proving naysayers wrong

NASCAR rookie Juan Pablo Montoya says he isn't giving up, but he wants to focus on winning and not the Chase for the Cup after his second-place finish at the Brickyard moved him up to 18th.

Updated: August 10, 2007, 1:55 AM ET
By Jenna Fryer | Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Juan Pablo Montoya believed he had almost no chance to make the Chase for the championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezJuan Pablo Montoya celebrates his first Nextel Cup victory at Sonoma in June.

Then he finished second -- his best career NASCAR finish on an oval -- and his tune changed a bit. Montoya is 18th in the standings but just 200 points out of Chase contention with six races left to make the field.

"I'll tell you the truth -- if we could get this kind of finish the next two races, then you have a chance," he said July 29 at Indy.

With all due respect to the former Formula One star, he's not exactly been knocking down solid finishes. He won on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., in late June, but his only other top-five was back in March at Atlanta.

"I am not saying we are giving up," he explained. "But it's really going to take a couple of wins and a couple of great finishes and bad finishes by the people in front of us."

He got all that at the Brickyard, where his second-place finish put him on the same podium as Nextel Cup champions Tony Stewart (first) and Jeff Gordon (third). It moved Montoya up two spots in the standings, and he closed the gap on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who blew a motor and finished 34th. Earnhardt is clinging to the 12th and final spot in the Chase field.

But Montoya remains hesitant, knowing his Chip Ganassi Racing team is still working toward consistent finishes. NASCAR's elite teams run at the front every week, while he and his teammates still are working toward that level.

The next two races, at Pocono Raceway and the road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y., will be telling. If Montoya can gain ground, making the Chase will be the focus. Otherwise, he'll have to adjust his goals.

"We're not going to give up," he said. "I just think moving forward, we're going to be trying to get wins more than we are going to be trying to get into the Chase."

Either way, he and Ganassi are adamant Montoya's rookie season will be considered a success no matter where he winds up in the final standings.

"I already have my first win under my belt. Do we always want more? Yeah. But I think where we are, and where we started, I think it's been a good job," Montoya said. "Who would have bet I won a race this year? Honestly, there were more people looking for me to fail than to do good."

Q: You really think, that with your resume and experience, people expected you to fail?

JPM: "Not so much in NASCAR, because people in the sport understand it. But a lot of fans and a lot of outside media, they expected me to flunk. There were even people who said that by Indy, I wasn't going to be in NASCAR. That I would have left."

Q: Who said you wouldn't be here by Indy?

JPM: "Robin Miller (SpeedTV analyst) said that."

Q: So what do you say to him?

JPM: "I say that I am happy in NASCAR. I really couldn't be happier, and I don't care what he says."

Q: The Busch series is going to Montreal this weekend, and you have raced on that course a bunch of times. What advice can you offer all the drivers who have never been there?

JPM: "Stay off the walls. Not joking. I am serious."

Q: Why the warning?

JPM: "The way I see it is anyone who put a wheel off in Sonoma, a wheel in the grass in Montreal will put you in the wall. That's the best way of putting it."

Q: Any regrets you won't be in the Busch race?

JPM: "None."

Q: You don't like Montreal?

JPM: "I think Montreal is really nice. But I wouldn't be looking forward to go there and start last and not be able to get to the front, because there are too many yellow-flag laps. And I will miss the lobster, but the tradeoff is I will have time to play golf."

Q: The lobster?

JPM: "A restaurant we always go to, Milos. It is a seafood place, and oh my gosh, it is one of the best places in the world. Very expensive, but a must-do in Montreal."

Q: So you spent the final off weekend of the season in Colombia. What did you do?

JPM: "I played golf, because the doctor said I could."

Q: The doctor?

JPM: "Yes, I hurt my thumb in Daytona. The doctor looked at it and said playing golf would not hurt it, but it would not help it heal very fast. So I played golf."

Q: What did you do to your thumb?

JPM: "They said, what is it called when you hurt your ankle? Sprained? I sprained it. I just jammed it during the race."

Q: How come this is the first anybody has heard of this?

JPM: "I don't know. I don't need the world to know I have a hurt thumb."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press