DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With a victory at the Indianapolis 500, Grand Prix of Monaco and the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Juan Pablo Montoya already has distinguished himself as one of the greatest racecar drivers of all time.
Although Montoya, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney are the only three drivers to ever win an IndyCar, Formula One and NASCAR race, Montoya still feels there is a lot to prove.
His two Sprint Cup wins came on the road courses at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., so he is compelled to fulfill the only missing piece in an otherwise storied career – a stock car victory on an oval.
Winning in IndyCars and Formula One came easy. He won 11 of 49 career starts and the 1999 CART championship in IndyCar. He won seven of 94 starts in Formula One and was ranked in the top five during four of his six years.
He also worked with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball last weekend to win his third 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway.
Pruett was supposed to drive the final two hours, but he was forced out of the car by persistent ankle pain. Car owner Chip Ganassi put Montoya in the car, knowing he had the skill and determination to keep their sports car out front.
NASCAR, however, has been a different challenge. Unlike the sports cars and sleek open-wheel racers he drove to worldwide prominence, stock cars are big and bulky. For Montoya, finding success on an oval now seems personal.
Montoya knows he doesn’t need an oval victory in NASCAR to validate his career. He doesn’t need the money and he’s not interested in selling souvenirs. He wants an oval victory because it’s the only thing in racing he hasn’t conquered.
A new generation race car and a switch to Hendrick Motorsports engines should help. Everyone is starting over with a car that’s been re-designed to bring back manufacturer identity, so Montoya feels his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team will erase their deficit of a year ago.
Montoya and teammate Jamie McMurray combined for no wins and only five top-five finishes. Now they’re at the same starting point as everyone else.
“I’m looking forward to a fresh start,” Montoya said.
While nothing will carry over from last weekend’s sports car race to February’s Daytona 500, Montoya at least will have some personal momentum. And after the struggles of last year, he will take what he can get.
“I think personally it’s a boost getting the job done,” Montoya said.
The only lasting NASCAR memory of a year ago came when Montoya’s car broke and veered into a truck pulling a jet dryer during the Daytona 500. The impact caused 200 gallons of jet fuel to explode, creating a two-hour delay.
Everyone at Ganassi now is determined to create a more satisfying memory.
Ganassi proved his commitment to Montoya last Sunday when he was asked to put the finishing touches on the team’s 24-hour win. And even with his legendary worldwide credentials, Montoya said he doesn’t take anything for granted.
“I think you always race for your job,” he said. “It’s normal.”
Winning on most of the world’s stages has been normal, if not easy, for Montoya, but an oval victory in NASCAR would make his career even more complete.
As if he needed to prove anything.