Juan Pablo Montoya was a surprising entry in this year's Chase for the Championship. Now that he's in, he hopes to take the No. 42 Chevrolet and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to a championship.
Montoya, a former Indy-car champion with wins in the Indianapolis 500 and Grand Prix of Monaco, talked about his improvement as a stock car driver and his team's approach to the playoffs. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Q: What is your approach to the Chase for the Championship?
A: A championship is beating everybody else. We come here to race and to win races and to win races you've got to beat everybody else. We know that we've got good cars. We know we're in a very good position but at the end of the day it's 10 races. So nothing really has happened. I think you've got to wait five or six races and see where you are. And if you're still in this good position after six races then you go, OK, what do we need to do from now on. And have kind of a game plan. Right now it's all about all you can get.
Q: Is it more difficult to maintain mental toughness during the Chase?
A: No, not really. Right now, it's fun. You know, it was more straightforward trying to make the Chase than what we are doing right now to tell you the truth. The position we are in, in points, it wasn't that comfortable. I think for teams like the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), 24 (Jeff Gordon), all of the good Hendrick cars or the cars Hendricks' are running up there in the Chase, for them, it was a different story. For them it's preparing themselves for the Chase. For us it was making the Chase, getting to the Chase. There were companies that were going to be in and we were doing all that was possible to make it in. So the approach was very different. For us, our goal this year was making the Chase and we did so. Anything that happens from now to the end of the year, it's a bonus.
Q: Do you have another emotional or professional gear now that the playoffs have started?
A: When they give you such good equipment, you have to bring your A Game, you know what I mean. With the kind of cars (crew chief Brian Pattie) given me, we can't just go out there and just ride, you know, you can't. So we are doing what we can. We are doing the best we can and trying to drive the car as hot as I can and I don't want to leave anything on the table.
Q: What has improved with your race team or your driving in the past three years to put you in this position?
A: It's all of the above. You know, my relationship with Brian has gotten a lot better, so we understand a lot better each other. When I mention something to him, he understands better what I want out of the car, and likewise, you know, when he makes changes, I'm a lot more comfortable when he makes changes now than I did before, and all that contributes. You know, everybody I think in our shop is building better race cars, lighter race cars. You see every time, they keep find are more power and bringing better engines, just the whole package seems to be working really well right now.
Q: What do you still have to learn to be a NASCAR champion?
A: I don't even know if we are ready yet. We are doing the best we can and hopefully we are going to be good enough to at least fight for it.