Last year, starting at Infineon, Montoya ran off a string of nine straight finishes of 12th or better, including a runner-up finish in the August race at Pocono.
True, Montoya is 20th in the standings. Last year at this same juncture, he was 14th and 43 points behind Jeff Burton in 12th. Far more daunting is his current deficit to 12th-place Mark Martin—189 points. And to make the Chase, Montoya will have to pass eight drivers.
In reality, the two road courses alone should enable him to leap-frog past four or five of the drivers ahead of him in the standings. The critical part of the schedule for Montoya starts with the return trip to Michigan, followed by visits to Bristol, Atlanta (arguably his best intermediate track) and Richmond.
If Montoya can get past the two short tracks with decent finishes, the schedule favors a Montoya rally. The rest is up to him.
To make the Chase, Montoya will have to rediscover the same calculating, methodical approach that got him there last year over this same stretch of races. In Sunday's race at Michigan, Montoya and his team couldn't quite find the right balance to race for the win.
“We just couldn't get where we needed to be at the end of the race, so we'll take what we've learned and move on to the next race,” said Montoya, who finished 13th.
The next race is at Infineon, and for Montoya's Chase hopes, that's a good thing.