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Juan Pablo Montoya loses NASCAR ride as 'historic' story fizzles

August 14, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • Chip Ganassi, left, has parted ways with NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya.
Chip Ganassi, left, has parted ways with NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. (Tom Strattman / Associated…)

It was a stunning moment when open-wheel racing star Juan Pablo Montoya announced in 2006 that he was moving to NASCAR stock-car racing.

Here was a celebrated Colombian who had won the Indianapolis 500 and several races in the international Formula One series. including the Monaco Grand Prix, ready to bang fenders at tracks in Bristol, Tenn., and Darlington, S.C., among other NASCAR stops.

"Historic" was the way NASCAR President Mike Helton put Montoya's desire to compete in the most popular form of U.S. motor racing.

Car and Driver magazine put it another way: "Juan Pablo, Good Ol' Boy."

But seven years later, Montoya and his team had so little to show for their effort -- two wins in 239 starts in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series -- that his team Tuesday opted not to bring him back in 2014.

Montoya, 37, currently is 22nd in the Cup point standings, with only five top-10 finishes in the 22 races run so far this season.

It's the latest example of how NASCAR racing simply isn't as easy as it might look to the casual fan.

NASCAR is intensely competitive, led by powerful teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing that are constantly searching -- and spending -- for an edge and that employ NASCAR's top drivers.

Montoya's team is called Earnhardt Ganassi with Felix Sabates, and Montoya earlier had driven for co-owner Chip Ganassi when he won the Indy 500 in 2000 and other races.

But for all his success in IndyCar racing, Ganassi's team has struggled over the years to keep pace with NASCAR's best teams, and not just with Montoya at the wheel.

Regardless, Ganassi and Sabates are close to Montoya, and the decision to release him after this year was not easy for them.

But they're businessmen with sponsors to satisfy, and here's guessing that retailer Target Corp., a primary backer of Montoya's No. 42 Chevrolet, wasn't wild about seeing its car finish mid-pack week after week.

The question now is who might replace Montoya next year. One possible candidate is phenom Kyle Larson, a 21-year-old Californian under contract with Ganassi who's currently racing in NASCAR's second-level Nationwide Series.

But no matter who takes Montoya's seat next year, for Ganassi's team and its sponsors the issue will be more about winning -- or even being closer to winning -- and less about being historic.


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