SONOMA, Calif. – The pressure is off Juan Pablo Montoya to win at Sonoma Raceway, where his road-course background has created an expectation for him to win every year.
As he inches closer to finally winning on an oval track, the annual stop at the 1.99-mile road course has become less stressful. Montoya has four top-10s in six career starts at Sonoma, where he got his first Sprint Cup victory in 2007.
“We’ve been running really good on ovals but I’m excited to come here and see how we run,” Montoya said Friday. “I think it’s exciting to come here because, first we’ve got a shot at a win, worst-case scenario we can score a lot of points. We’ve got to make sure we execute and do our things right and see what happens.”
Montoya arrived at Sonoma ranked 22nd in the standings, having made a slow climb behind strong finishes in the last eight races. He has three top-10 finishes, and contended for wins at Richmond and Dover.
He wound up second to Tony Stewart at Dover, where some wondered if the fiery Montoya had mellowed because he didn’t put up a fight when Stewart passed him for the win. The common thinking was the old Montoya might have wrecked Stewart to preserve a victory.
“Or old Stewart would have put the old Montoya in the wall. It’s a two-way street,” Montoya said.
But it wasn’t a fight worth having with Stewart, who Montoya said had a much faster car.
“They told me he was coming on the bottom and he was making time on the bottom,” Montoya said. “All I can do is go by what I know. Yeah, I could have been more aggressive maybe for a corner. But I know if I would have moved up, with the way my car was driving, he would have cleared me on the bottom. If I would have blocked him and tried to run high, the way my car was driving, his car would have passed me halfway through the corner like no problem. I knew my best chance was try to come off the corner as good as I could. That’s all I could do.
“I’m like ‘I can either wreck here trying to protect that when I know I’m not good enough right now, take second and go home happy, or I can finish 30th ‘ ” Montoya continued. “I decided to take the smarter way.”
That doesn’t mean Montoya doesn’t want to win. He admitted Friday he’s starving for a victory — the last of his two Sprint Cup wins was in 2010 at Watkins Glen — but he’s focusing on making the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
“It’s hard because I think we’re still in a position where we can make it on points, top 10,” Montoya said. “I want to win badly but I want to make the Chase even more badly. We’ve got to take chances to win but we’ve got to take more chances to score big.”