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Juan's on the move

With all the attention to fuel — who's out and who's not — at Pocono and Michigan the past two weeks, it might be easy to overlook the progress Juan Pablo Montoya has been making in his climb toward a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Don't look now, but the man who won seven Formula One races and has an Indianapolis 500 title on his resume is getting the hang of these relatively unwieldy 3,400-pound stock cars.

Back-to-back top-ten finishes — eighth at Pocono and sixth at Michigan — have Montoya sitting 14th in the Cup standings after 15 races, two positions and 43 points from the top twelve. After next Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., it would hardly be surprising to find Montoya among the series' elite dozen.

“I think that's a great weekend for us to get a top five,” said Montoya, who claimed his only Cup win at Infineon in 2007 and ran sixth there last year. “And we'll take that top five, because we need the points. Right now it's about points. It's not about winning races.

“Of course we want to win races. Of course we want to do good. But the goal for this year is making the freakin' Chase. So right now, we're doing everything it takes to do it. It's about finishing the races and finishing good.

“To make the Chase you've got to beat a lot of really good cars and big teams, but I think we've got the potential. Is it going to be done? I don't know. But do we have a chance? Yes, we do have a chance.”

That Montoya is on the cusp of Chase eligibility is something of a minor miracle, given that the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing organisation that employs him doesn't have the same resources at its disposal as do Sprint Cup racing's strongest teams — Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Montoya is benefitting from a switch to Chevrolets this season, a product of the merger of Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. In Montoya's estimation, the engines produced by the Earnhardt-Childress alliance (which supplies power plants to EGR and Richard Childress Racing) are more potent than the Dodge engines Ganassi used in 2008, before the merger.

The Chase field will be set after the Sept. 12 race at Richmond. Looking at the next eleven races on the schedule, Montoya has to like his chances. There are two road-course races, at Infineon and Watkins Glen. On July 26, the Cup series goes to Indianapolis, where Montoya finished second to Tony Stewart in his first run there in a stock car (2007). Return visits are scheduled at four other tracks where Montoya already has posted top 10s this season: Pocono, Michigan, Bristol and Richmond.



Related Pictures

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Juan Pablo Montoya [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS who finished in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
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Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 6, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. This was Johnson`s 76th career win, 5th in Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished second. The victory ties Johnson with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in NASCAR premier series wins. (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory with a burnout Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. This was Johnson`s 76th career win, 5th in Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished second. The victory ties Johnson with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in NASCAR premier series wins.  (Photo by Andrew Coppley for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory with his wife, Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. This was Johnson`s 76th career win, 5th in Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished second. The victory ties Johnson with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in NASCAR premier series wins. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, crosses the finish line for the victory Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. This was Johnson`s 76th career win, 5th in Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished second. The victory ties Johnson with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in NASCAR premier series wins. (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #24 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet SS, races to a seventh-place finish Sunday, February 21, 2016 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS drives to victory Thursday, February 18, 2016 winning the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. This is Earnhardt Jr.`s second consecutive Duel victory. He will start on the inside of Row 2 for Sunday`s Daytona 500 race. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, poses in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Taxslayer.com Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on February 12, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, November 15, 2015 in the final round of the Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS advances to the Champion 4 with his second place finish. Harvick is joined with Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet SS to the Sprint Cup Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida next Sunday. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, lead the field onto pit road due to rain during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, celebrates on pit road after winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the crew of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet team celebrate in victory lane after winning the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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