Never a dull moment for Montoya in his rookie season
A win, a shoving match, a fine, an obscene gesture on national TV -- top rookie Juan Pablo Montoya experienced it all this season.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Juan Pablo Montoya won a race, finished 20th in points, drew the attention of new fans to the sport, and made all sorts of friends and enemies in the garages of two series this season.Not bad for a greenhorn with a yellow stripe on his bumper. Even though the former F1 driver isn't exactly new to his chosen vocation, he was still eligible for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award, which he wrapped up with his 15th-place finish at the Ford 400 here on Sunday. David Ragan was a closer-than-you'd-think second in the race for top rookie after crossing the finish line at Homestead in 10th. After much offseason hype swirled around his move, which was being sold by NASCAR as nothing short of revolutionary, Montoya's year started strong -- he won the first road course race he entered, bumping aside Scott Pruett in the closing laps to win the Busch Series race in Mexico, on March 4. He then went on to finish as the top rook in 16 of 36 races, highlighted by his win, in his 17th Nextel Cup start, at Sonoma on June 24. That win was solid evidence of what he could do when he was familiar with a style of track: After winding his way through the pack from 32nd place off the green flag, he led just seven of 110 laps, showing veteran poise by knowing the value of leading the last lap. Sure, he took advantage of leader Jamie McMurray running out of gas, but it was the farthest back a winner had started on a current road course. Montoya's win was the first in Cup by a foreign-born driver since 1974 and he became the third driver to win in NASCAR, Indy cars and Formula One. The rubber was meeting the road just fine, thank you.
"We got stronger as the season went on. We have to work a lot harder over this winter, especially on the COT. Next year will be pretty exciting. We're headed in the right direction."
Paul Grant is a senior coordinator at ESPN.