Juan Pablo Montoya Transcript from Sonoma
It’s been a year since your memorable victory in Sonoma. Can you reflect on that win and this year’s race?
JPM: Last year was a very special moment for us. It was a tough race because we were really good in every practice, but went out in qualifying and really struggled. We couldn’t really understand why. We came from the back of the race and we knew from where we started that we really needed to play the strategy of fuel. Fuel would be the key for the race. We played it, and it came out perfectly.
What are your thoughts on this track?
JPM: It’s a cool racetrack. I actually did my driving school here in 1992 here when it was called Sears Point. It was the old track when I did it. I loved it when I did it. It’s funny that on TV you don’t see all the inclinations, uphill and downhill. People don’t really see that on TV, and it’s a shame. You forget how much up the hill you go up Turn 1 and into Turn 2. It’s cool.
A lot of drivers say that this is a tough place to pass. Do you feel that your experience gives you an advantage when it comes to passing?
JPM: The thing is you’ve got to remember is that all these guys most of their lives run 90-percent of the time on ovals and 10-percent on the road courses. For a guy like me, until I came to NASCAR, I’ve been racing since I was five years old. Before I came to NASCAR, I’ve done maybe 16 races on ovals, and every other race in my life was on road courses. So, you learn to pick your places to pass maybe a little better and maybe you’ve got more experience, but that’s it.
After your victory, does your confidence level go up when you come here?
JPM: You know, this season has been so rough on us, that I told the guys that it would be cool if we have a chance of winning. If I have a chance of winning, I’m going to take it, like we did before, but it’s very important that we get a finish and we score good points. We’ve been unlucky with wrecks and things going on in the car, and a change of crew chiefs and things, it hurt us a lot of points in the championship, so we have to get a good finish to get back in contention.
How does this fuel your confidence entering the race weekend?
JPM: It’s funny because, it will be interesting in a way. In Formula One, running good in a place one year, never really meant that you’d be good the year after. It usually doesn’t translate. In this sport, with these cars being the same or similar, it should be good. We’ve tested, we’ve developed the car, and we have a much more competitive car than we did last year. Even last year was pretty good, but I think the car this year is better than last year’s, so it should be pretty nice.
In 1992, was that the first time you saw the track?
JPM: That was the first time I saw the track and the first time I drove a racecar. I loved it. Skip Barber, they were a blast. For me, they were so fast then and you look at them now today, and you go “oh.”
In 1989, during NASCAR’s first visit to the track, a lot of drivers were intimidated. Some drivers are still intimidated by the road course. Do you feel that gives you an advantage over other drivers?
JPM: I do. My knowledge of what to expect from the car and how far you can go with the car before it goes out of control is a lot bigger on a road course than an oval. Even today, I’ve been in NASCAR for a year and a half, but even today there are times I feel unsure. The good thing about it is that with time you learn. To give you an example, last week the car was horrible. I was telling them ‘I can’t run high, I’ll wreck.’ It was like 10 laps to go, and I thought ‘What the heck, I’ll give it a try.’ I tried it once and I hit the wall, so I was right. But, on a road course I don’t have to go that far.
There was a lot of pressure on you last year…
JPM: Everybody thought ‘Oh, he’s going to come out and win the race,’ but if we didn’t win the race, we sucked. It was that simple. Anything less than a win would’ve been disappointing. But, we came out here and we proved we could do it, and we did it. This year will be interesting. Dario (Franchitti) is a good road racer, (Scott) Pruett is in the 41 car. I think all three Ganassi cars have a great chance of winning here.
Did you feel the pressure from the media to win in Sonoma in 2007?
JPM: Yes, everyone said “Now we’re coming to something that you know, so you should kick their ass.” You don’t realize guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are really good on road courses, they’ve won on road courses. NASCAR’s been coming here 20 years, and Jeff Gordon has won five times here and he knows exactly where to brake, where the bumps are and what the gears should feel like, what the engine should feel like. I had no clue. We played a great strategy, and I passed the people when I wanted to pass them, and we saved the fuel when we needed to, and everything worked out very well. But, you know in a way, I knew we didn’t have the pace in the race against the 20 car and stuff, but we could run eight more laps than them on fuel, that was huge.
Is there more pressure this year?
JPM: No. It’s a lot less pressure because you think, ‘You win it, great, you won it again.”’ If things don’t come out great, don’t win it, you finish third, fourth or fifth, or you get in a wreck, it happens, you know. But, the team knows we can do it and everybody knows we can do it. For the whole team, I’ll be very surprised if all three cars were not in the top 10. It’s a shame that Reed (Sorenson) is not in the car, but for Ganassi as a whole organization, I think it’s a big deal for all three cars.
This is always an unpredictable race with guys like Pruett, Franchitti and Sam Hornish. Does that make it more exciting for the fans?
JPM: It’s more exciting for the fans, but at the same time, it’s hard, because those guys are here just one race and they just want to go out there and win, and they’ll do whatever it takes. For me, if I had a chance of winning, I want to take it. But, at the same time, the last few races we’ve struggled, if I take a third today against a 20th place, it’s an extra 100 points. You might take that third place and get the points and go home happy, but there’s always a little chip in your head that says, ‘Okay, go for it.’
How is it going with your new crew chief?
JPM: Things are going really well. The hardest thing is that every crew chief has his idea of how we should run the car, where we should go and the engineering, as well, so it’s really hard because you have to support the crew chief 100-percent and the ideas often kind of work, but for the kind of work to make it really work, you have to take steps and try things and screw it up before it really works. We practiced in Michigan and we had a pretty decent car, we should’ve qualified really well, we had a consistent car and we’ll be good. We made three little adjustments for the race and I couldn’t even hang on to it. By the time the first caution came out, we were two laps down. After that, we said, we’re two laps down, let’s just throw away the race and hope a couple people wreck and we’ll get extra points. We started changing springs and track bars and we lost three laps just doing changes on the car. But, we knew we were doing that to try to understand ‘Where did we get lost? What did we miss?’ I think we’re starting to understand, and I think as a whole company, I think these last few weeks, as rough as they’ve been for the company, I think for the long term they’ll be really good. Because all of a sudden, everyone’s getting together. All the drivers are talking, all the engineers are talking and all the crew chiefs are talking. Everybody’s talking to each other and everybody’s starting to realize, ‘Hey, we suck, and we need to make things better,’ and that’s what we’re doing.
Did your relationship with your crew chief change after you hit the wall?
JPM: It was funny because I worked with him for three races in the Nationwide Series and I had one great race where I got wrecked by (Clint) Bowyer in New Hampshire, but I don’t remember the other two, so I guess they weren’t that good. You know what I really like and admire a lot about him? That’s why I want to support him is because he works 110-percent to make sure he gives me the best he can. And when somebody does that for you, you give him 110-percent support and you are 110-percent behind him.
How have the trials and tribulations differed between this year and last year?
JPM: You know, there’s been weeks, like this year when we run bad and I’m thinking, ‘This is the kind of racing I expected last year.’ Last year I was running a lot better, and it’s not like I forgot how to drive, so that’s been a little tough. You expect every year for things to go a little better, and right now we’re not. So, from that point of view, it’s very hard mentally. It’s frustrating. I’m not a good guy to keep emotions away. I’ll tell you everything how it is. I’m an open book. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, but you know what I’m thinking.
When you came to this sport, it was hoped that you’d bring a lot of Hispanic fans to the sport. Have you seen that?
JPM: Yes, there have been a lot of places... For example, in the Miami area, where I live, I don’t ever go to the mall. I never go shopping. If I need something I order it over the internet. I went yesterday and I couldn’t believe how many autographs I got asked for, it was every two minutes. I thought in a way, this is not what you want for at home, but at the same time people are paying attention to what we’re doing, and that’s a cool thing. At California Speedway, they’re working a lot to get the Latin fan and Latin media involved in it. It’s incredible. You see more and more Spanish-speaking people at the races. A surprising number of Europeans, as well, Germans and stuff like that.
After a full year, is there a driver you most admire?
JPM: Do I have to answer that?
Is there somebody that has surprised you?
JPM: No, in general, a guy that drives a Hendrick car, you always expect to do well. Maybe a little bit of a surprise, Gibbs picked it up from last year. Tony (Stewart) was always there, but they were not really that strong the last few years.
Have you given Dario Franchitti any advice in his transition from open-wheel cars?
JPM: It’s a different Dario. I think after he broke his leg and he saw people running his car and his car falling away from the top 35, it gave him the hunger to run well. Last week his engine blew up, but he probably had the best of the Ganassi cars. He was good in qualifying trim (take out?) and good in practice, it was nice to see.
What are your thoughts about Scott Pruett competing in the race?
JPM: I think Scott’s going to be a tough contender. I’ll tell you, out of all three drivers who will be here for Ganassi, the guy who’s done the most road course miles in testing has been Scott. I’ve done a day of testing and he’s done six or seven, if not more. He should be really strong. I think that would be great because the 41 really needs the points.
Do you think it will be tough for him doing both the Grand-Am and Sprint Cup Series races?
JPM: It’s not so bad for a guy that runs so many endurance races, like six hours or the 24 Hours at Daytona. He should be okay. It’s going to be a long race, and it’s a hot race.
No winner has ever started as far back as you did last year in Sonoma. How did you get to the front?
JPM: Well, you know, it was good at the beginning I picked up a bunch of places, and then we took our time. We let people wear their tires down, and picked more places. We played it pretty smart. The pit stops were amazing. When it’s your day, it doesn’t matter where you start. When it’s your day, everything goes your way and you just win the frickin’ race and go home happy. There are days when you can dominate… Look at Richmond this year. The 11 car (Denny Hamlin) dominated the race all day, led like 380 laps out of 400 and he finished one or two laps down. So, everything’s got to go your way. Hopefully Sunday is my day again. I’ll take it.