WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- This week, the pole was no surprise to Juan Montoya.
The unexpected winner of the top starting spot last week at Pocono, Montoya made it two in a row Saturday at Watkins Glen International, the 2.45-mile road course that gave the Colombian driver the second of his two Sprint Cup Series victories.
With seven wins in prestigious Formula One racing, Montoya expects to run well at road courses, and on Saturday he did, winning the pole for Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen in a track-record 69.438 seconds (127.020 mph).
The pole award was Montoya's second of the season, his first at Watkins Glen -- in fact, his first on a road course at the Cup level -- and the ninth of his career.
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Montoya edged Kyle Busch (126.928 mph) by .05 seconds. Busch also broke the track record of 126.421 mph he set last year, as did third-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson (126.925 mph), fourth-place Brad Keselowski (126.626 mph), and fifth-place Marcos Ambrose(126.524 mph).
Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. andJamie McMurray will start the 22nd Cup race of the season from positions six through 10, respectively.
"I think the lap was a pretty good lap," Montoya said. "You always make mistakes here and there. It's never perfect. You always think, 'Oh, I went too far here, I went too little there, I lost it there' -- but I think everybody does.
"It's about how well you can put it all together, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. I think [Sunday] in the race we're going to have a decent car."
Montoya saw the way Jeff Gordon catapulted from nowhere into a provisional wild-card position for the Chase for the Sprint Cup with last Sunday's victory at Pocono and said the same might be possible for him, even though Montoya is 21st in the series standings with no victories.
"We've talked about it," Montoya said. "Even if we don't win [Sunday], we believe that, with the things we have found lately, maybe if we don't have the fastest car there, but if we play the strategy right -- it might come down to fuel or something -- we might come into Richmond with a chance of making the Chase.
"It would be shocking, but it would be awesome."
The top 10 drivers in the standings qualify for the Chase, along with the two drivers from positions 11-20 with the most victories. Montoya is 27 points behind 20th-place Jeff Burton and would have to improve at least one position to be eligible for a wild-card spot.
Busch posted the fastest time in Saturday morning's practice but said he got loose in a couple of corners during his qualifying run. With a front-row starting position, Busch won't be satisfied with anything less than a victory.
Currently 15th in points with one victory, he needs at least one more to feel comfortable about his Chase chances.
"For the next five [races], it's win or bust, basically," Busch said. "Finishing second or third or fourth isn't going to get us anywhere."
Az egykori Formula-1-es pilóta és CART bajnok, a jelenleg a NASCAR Sprint Cup bajnokságban versenyző, Juan Pablo Montoya július 27-én a Grand-Am sorozatban a Chip Ganassi Racing 02-es rajtszámú autójával Jamie McMurray társaként ott lesz a sorozat Indianapolisi futamán.
A Chip Ganassi Racing a Grand-Am sorozatban jelenleg 3 ponttal van lemaradva a listavezető Action Express Racing-től, és 1-re a második helyen álló Starworks Motorsporttól, így jól jön a számukra a NASCAR-os különítmény segítsége. Montoya és McMurray az év elején a Daytonai 24 óráson már egyszer a 4. helyre kormányozta Chip Ganassi autóját (2007-ben és 2008-ban Montoya nyert is Daytonában), míg 2000-ben megnyerte az Indy500-at, ráadásul Montoya az egyetlen pilóta, aki Indianapolisban rajthoz állt már az Indy500-on, a NASCAR Brickyard 400-on, valamint a Formula-1-es Amerikai Nagydíjon is.
„Úgy gondolom, hogy ez nagyon jó móka lesz” – nyilatkozta Montoya. – „Igazi őrült dolog, hiszen nagyon sokszor versenyeztem már itt Indianapolisban. Nagyon izgalmas verseny lesz, és azt hiszem, hogy Jamie-nek és nekem igazán jó esélyeink vannak.”
McMurray Montoyával ellentétben azonban sohasem vezetett még a korábban a Formula-1-es mezőny által is használt indianapolisi belső pályaszakaszon. „Én még sohasem fordultam le az 1-es kanyar előtt, ráadásul a Rolex autóval visszafelé fogunk menni” – nyilatkozta McMurray. – „Nagyon nagy G-erők hatnak majd ránk, és erről beszéltem már Montoyával, mert minden nagyobb forduló jobbkezes ezért a nyakad 3 kör után elfárad, mert mi nem ilyen irányból használjuk a pályát. De bizony erre neki is fel kell majd készülnie, mert már hosszú ideje neki sem volt része hasonló terhelésben.”
Chip Ganassi 01-es rajtszámú autóját a bajnokságban is vezető Scott Pruett és Memo Rojas páros vezetheti majd.
2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and 2010 Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray discovered different interpretations of what it means to be a teammate during testing for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard, set for July 26-29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Montoya and McMurray are NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teammates for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, with Montoya driving the No. 42 Target Chevrolet and McMurray driving the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/McDonald's Chevrolet. But when they race in the inaugural Brickyard Grand Prix Grand-Am race Friday, July 27 on the IMS road course, they will share the wheel of the No. 02 Chevron Riley-BMW Daytona Prototype fielded by the Ganassi team.
"From the team side of it, I think this is really good for Juan and I because, even though we're on the same team in the NASCAR series, you're still competing against each other, where here you're literally on the same team, so if one of you wins, both of you win," McMurray said. "I think it's a really good relationship-builder for us to talk about the car and everything that's going on, and both be pulling for the same car to win. I think it's good for our relationship."
McMurray and Montoya started preparation for the first Rolex Sports Car Series race on the 2.534-mile Grand Prix course by testing Monday at IMS.
"Indy just has so much history behind it, and it's just one of those places where if you're a NASCAR fan or an IndyCar fan, or any kind of a racing fan, this is the place you want to get to race at," McMurray said. "First off, I think it's really cool that Grand-Am came here, and that all of the guys in the Rolex Series, whether it's in the DP cars or the GT cars, get a chance to race here because it's such a cool track."
This will be the second time they are teammates this season in Grand-Am, as they combined with Indianapolis 500 winners and Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti to finish fourth in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. But they know racing in the Brickyard Grand Prix will be a challenge. For starters, McMurray never has raced on the IMS road course, and the Grand Prix circuit had a slightly different configuration when Montoya competed in the United States Grand Prix F1 race there from 2001-'06.
"I've never went around Turn 1 wide open before, and the first time, even though you're going backward, it's kind of mindboggling to run flat-out around there in the Rolex car," McMurray said. "There are a lot of G's and a lot of load on your body, and one thing Juan and I were talking about is that all of these turns are right-handed, and my neck got tired in three laps because we're not used to turning right. I told him to hang on and get prepared because your body's going to go through something it hasn't went through in a long time."
McMurray turned laps in the morning Monday, while Montoya tested in the afternoon. Montoya jumped in an IMS Chevrolet pickup truck and turned a few impromptu, low-speed laps before his stint to re-acclimate himself with the track and the turn configuration behind the IMS Hall of Fame Museum, new since he last raced on the road course in 2006.
"We're going to go through Turn 1 backward and through a road course, and it's completely different mindsets," Montoya said. "I've been here enough times in the Cup car already that you know where to brake, you know what to do, you know what you want out of the car. This is completely different."
Another aspect of the challenge for Montoya and McMurray is seat time. They were unable to participate in two full days of Grand-Am testing July 6-7 at IMS due to their Sprint Cup commitments at Daytona.
"Jamie's having the morning and a little more, and I'm running in the afternoon, and that's it," Montoya said. "We don't get a lot of time."
At first, Montoya and McMurray were concerned with a packed schedule between Sprint Cup and Rolex Sports Car Series during the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard when team owner Chip Ganassi first offered them the Daytona Prototype ride. But they both anticipate smooth sailing since all of the Grand-Am activity is scheduled for Friday, July 27 and Sprint Cup track action doesn't start until Saturday, July 28.
"I don't think it'll be bad at all," McMurray said. "I hadn't looked at a schedule until recently, and it's really nice. You're not having to run one practice and then get in the Cup car and then get back in the Grand-Am car. The fact that we're doing all the Grand-Am stuff in one day and that's over with, and then our Sprint Cup weekend starts, I think that'll make it easier. You can focus with just the one team and work on that particular car."
The three-hour Rolex Sports Car Series race at Indianapolis – featuring Daytona Prototype and GT cars – will mark a special milestone in Montoya's career. He will become the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, United States Grand Prix and Brickyard Grand Prix events at IMS.
"I think it's going to be cool," Montoya said. "This is kind of crazy that pretty much everything with four wheels, I've been here at Indy. It's pretty exciting. I think Jamie and I have a pretty good chance. I think the Chevron car is going to be pretty good."
But don't count on Montoya taking to two wheels to become the first person to race in five different events at IMS by competing in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP race.
"No," he said, while laughing. "I did a two-seater two years ago, and that scared the hell out of me. It was fun; it was a hell of a ride, but hell, no!"
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) - It's been a continuous search for consistency at Chip Ganassi Racing, where the NASCAR program has never matched the performance levels of its dominant IndyCar entries.
But there's no bitterness from Juan Pablo Montoya or Jamie McMurray, who have watched from afar as IndyCar counterparts Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon race for wins and championships every year.
"I don't think we are jealous," McMurray said. "We are happy for those guys."
Franchitti, the four-time IndyCar champion, won his third Indianapolis 500 last month, and Dixon reached Victory Lane a week later at Belle Isle and is currently in the thick of the title race. But they both had to overcome early season struggles, which hasn't been lost on Montoya.
"I laugh because this year has been the hardest year for them for quite a few years, and I am like 'Welcome,' " he said, smiling.
Indeed, welcome to the up-and-down battles that Montoya and McMurray have faced the last several years in Ganassi's NASCAR program. The two head into Sunday's race at Sonoma at just about the halfway mark of another rebuilding year for the organization.
McMurray is 18th in the Sprint Cup Series, Montoya is 19th and combined they have only five top-10 finishes all season. But they say their cars are better, they've had increased speed of late and they are pleased with the direction of the race team.
"I think we've done a lot of progress," Montoya said. "If you really go through the team right now and see how different everything is working, it's pretty amazing. We haven't had the results we want to have, but I think there has been a lot of really good changes and we've been putting people in the right places.
"You want to run better overnight, but things have got to change. Everybody has got to adapt, and it's a process. But I really feel we made a lot of gains with the car and a lot of gains in how the engineering program is working and we definitely have been making progress."
Ganassi and co-owner Felix Sabates had arguably the most aggressive offseason in NASCAR as sweeping changes were made to the organization. Competition director Steve Hmiel and longtime team manager Tony Glover were replaced, and Brian Pattie left the organization at the end of the season after being removed as Montoya's crew chief in late July.
Ganassi brought in Max Jones as general manager, John Probst as technical director and lured Chris Heroy away from Hendrick Motorsports to crew chief Montoya. There has been added personnel, improved engineering and a cohesiveness that was absent last season, when both drivers went winless and failed to contend for spots in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
It was a dramatic drop-off from 2010, when McMurray won three races - including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 - and the drivers were far more competitive.
"It seemed like everything was going in the right direction, and the next year (in 2011) ... we just dropped the ball completely," Montoya said. "Last year was frustrating, it was more about arguing. Once we changed everybody on the team - it's nice to be here, it's really fun to be here. We have really good people and you know they are working their butts off together to give us better race cars every weekend."
McMurray said there have been times this season when either he or Montoya has one of the fastest cars on the track, but the team is still working on getting both cars clicking at the same time and putting together complete races.
"It gets better every week. We made all those changes in the offseason, and I don't think any of us expected to change all those people around and immediately be where we were in 2010," he said. "The teams are working really well together. The way the team is structured with personnel in the engineering department and the crew chiefs, it's so much better than it was last year.
"It's a completely different environment than what it was a year ago, and it's all for the better. And Chip is still out hiring people and looking for more engineers and more people to make it better than what it is right now. My guess is somewhere around the last 10 races we're going to see a lot of the progress. It takes time."
Still, both think they'll be competitive Sunday at the road course in scenic Sonoma. Montoya will start 12th; McMurray goes off 25th.
Montoya earned his first career victory at Sonoma and has four-top 10 finishes in five starts; McMurray's career-best second-place finish at Sonoma came when he was driving a Ganassi car.
The duo also announced Friday they'll team together to run the inaugural Grand-Am race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. They've been teammates the last two years with Dixon and Franchitti for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race, but will be a two-driver tandem at the Brickyard.
"I think it's good for our racing relationship to get to go do things like this," McMurray said. "It seems like every year after the Rolex race, we're closer. I think that's really important for the NASCAR side, for us to be closer and want to help each other more. When we go do that race, it seems like it does that automatically.
So, I'm looking forward to getting to go up and do the test and then the race."