Juan Pablo Montoya has finally achieved his dream result by winning a NASCAR Nextel Cup race last Sunday.
The ex-Formula One driver – who last competed in the United States Grand Prix for McLaren back in 2006 – described the maiden victory as one of the greatest moments of his racing career.
The Colombian has had a difficult start in stock car racing with his first ever race ending in a fireball! Since then, Montoya has been slowly learning the race craft in driving on ovals and has impressed the American public with his speed despite so-so results.
But this latest performance at Sears Point – the first of only two road course events on the Nextel Cup schedule – Montoya used his road racing experience to move up from a disappointing 32nd on the 43-car grid all the way to the front.
“I can’t even believe,” Montoya said. “It’s been an amazing day for the whole team. We had a fast car, just looked after it all day long, the strategy worked good, great pitstops and just had everything fall into place, you know. One of those days when you’re meant to win you’re going to win, whatever happens.”
“It’s huge,” when asked to compare his win with his other race victories as a professional racing driver. “I would say right now it’s the biggest thing I’ve done.”
“In open-wheel racing, I was expected to win. In stock cars, I wasn’t. This is as big as any victory. You could say it’s as big as winning the Indy 500 or winning Long Beach. For me winning Long Beach [Champ Car race, in 1999] was probably cooler than winning the Indy 500 because it was my first ever-big race. Winning here is my first-ever big race in stock cars. They’re all right up there. I kinda think this is my favourite. It’s amazing.”
The Colombian pulled off some bold overtaking moves on the California track, but the key to his victory was knowing when to save fuel during the final sting of the race.
“They told me it was going to be close,” Montoya added. “I mean, you always drive very careful with the throttle, letting the car roll and I thought ‘I’m going to be good, it’s going to close.’ I’m thinking ‘I don’t want to get to the end and get second’, you know. So I drove a bit harder, went by Jamie (Johnson) and then started saving a bit more fuel.”
Team boss Chip Ganassi, whose outfit Montoya won the 1999 Champ Car title and the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, said patience has become part of the feisty repertoire for JPM.
“Those of you who didn’t know him before, he’s changed quite a bit,” Ganassi said. “He’s a lot calmer, if you can imagine that. He actually came on the radio today and said ‘it’s too early to race these guys’.
“I was looking around thinking I had somebody else’s radio or something. He’s a changed man, all in a positive way.”
Montoya’s victory was the first for a Hispanic driver in Nextel Cup history and as such was a landmark for NASCAR, as the series hopes to expanse by tapping into new markets including Europe.
“I think in a way it’s going to be good for the whole NASCAR sport,” JPM said.” I think me winning today is going to bring a lot of attention the next few races.”