by Lynne Huntting
Rookie JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/#42 Dodge said his NASCAR Nextel Cup victory at Infineon Raceway was “as big as any other victory I've had. Personally, winning the Long Beach Grand Prix was cooler than winning the Indy 500 because it was my first big race win. This is my first big stock car victory.”
Montoya said he was more relieved than excited with his first Cup win. He knew they could do it. JPM ran the last Cup race of the 2006 season so actually has 17 starts, not 16 as previously reported here. And he races for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, not Team Penske.
“I'll tell you the truth. I was very surprised by the level of the drivers here. In Mexico (where he won the Busch Series race) I had a very good car and the drivers were very strong; but here, man the top 20 were - you had to work for your money.”
Montoya won $310,600 and is unofficially twenty-first in the points, 982 points out of first place.
JPM also, unofficially, leads the Rookie standings by 15 points ahead of DAVID RAGAN/#6 Ford. This was the eighth race in which Montoya was top Rookie. The last time a Rookie led a Cup race was his Ganassi sports car team-mate, SCOTT PRUETT, in 2000.
Montoya had only run 12 or so oval track races before starting NASCAR. He said there isn't that much practice time at each race before qualifying, and he's mostly running new tracks.
Crew Chief DONNIE WINGO said there was about a gallon of fuel left and the team kept telling Montoya to save fuel ... as he needed some for the victory lap. “Everybody did a good job on stops and the motor shop did a great job. Without the fuel mileage we ever would have made it. Juan did a good job. He kept the fenders on and passed what he needed to pass and fuel mileage is what saved us.”
Team Owner CHIP GANASSI said Montoya is “a lot calmer now (compared to his CART days with Ganassi), if you can imagine that. He's a changed man. During the race he came on the radio and said it's too early to race these guys. Wingo and I just looked at each other.”
Team Owner CHIP GANASSI said it has been so long since the team won a race he forgot how to find Victory Circle. In describing his driver, he said: “The guy just likes the action. Ten days ago he raced in the dirt at Eldora. The guy has the disease. It's not about the money, and it's easy to work hard for a guy like that.”
Montoya is part of a small, select group of drivers who have won races, titles and championship in so many different world-famous events. He's won his first NASCAR Cup race, this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car endurance race, the 2000 Indianapolis 500, the 1999 CART Championship as a Rookie, and seven Formula One races including the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix.
Other drivers to run in such races include MARIO ANDRETTI and DAN GURNEY.