It hasn't been the best of times for Juan Pablo Montoya in recent weeks.
After leading 116 laps at Indianapolis a decision to take four tires rather than two turned out to be his undoing and a day that appeared headed for Victory Lane ended with a crashed racecar.
It didn't get better last week in Pocono with a day that saw Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie bickering over the radio throughout the afternoon. By the end of the race, team morale at the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team was about as low as it could possibly get.
Then along came Watkins Glen and after a Montoya Sunday drive all of a sudden the entire organization is sky high.
Montoya's road racing prowess paid dividends in a big way with his second career Sprint Cup victory and a much-needed shot in the arm for the beleaguered team.
"To come out here today and get the job done the way we did today, it was big," said Montoya, who gave Pattie his first career win as a Sprint Cup crew chief. "I feel more relieved than happy right now. It's been a really hard road in a way. It's been a lot of fun; it's been frustrating. To finally get that first win for Brian, I think it's good."
Montoya has an easy explanation for why things may have gone off track the last few weeks in terms of team harmony and his relationship with Pattie.
"I think it's simple. You know, as competitive as I am, he's as competitive with the racecar," Montoya said. "I think we both come here every weekend with one goal: win. When the wins slip away, either my fault, his fault, I think the fault doesn't really matter. When you go home empty-handed, it's frustrating."
Sunday that frustration finally ended. Although Montoya has no chance of repeating last year's exciting drive to make the Chase, he feels there are still lots of goals to be met in 2010, including additional trips to Victory Lane.
Listen to Juan Pablo Montoya's post-race news conference (21 minutes)
But more important is the fact that everyone with the team is now all on the same page and headed in the right direction.
"I think this is a big relief for everybody," Montoya said. "I think getting the first win, second win, but first win for Brian, it's a big boost for the whole team. We just got to keep, you know, doing our job.
"I guarantee you we're going to have good weeks and bad weeks and you'll hear things on the radio, hopefully not as much," he laughed.
|More on Watkins Glen|
It wasn't as wild as last June's race at Infineon Raceway but Sunday's visit to Watkins Glen was another in a string of entertaining road course races for the Sprint Cup Series. The battle between Montoya and Marcos Ambrose that went on during two different stints was one of the best of the season. And every double-file restart had a hold-your-breath flavor to it that made the annual visit to the Fingers Lake region of upstate New York one of the favorite memories so far in the 2010 season.
And for the second straight week attendance was not the topic of discussion. After last Sunday's stellar crowd at Pocono, The Glen hosted in excess of 100,000 on a glorious weather day. They were treated to an exciting race and also one that ended in less than three hours, which compacted the action into a perfect window that didn't allow drivers to simply make laps but rather race the entire distance. NASCAR needs to take a page from Watkins Glen and apply it to the rest of the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
The day featured a pair of hard-hitting accidents that took out several contenders, including Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, who collided with each other and then the guardrail. Johnson was clipped from behind and spun before getting collected by Hamlin, who blamed his teammate Kyle Busch for "dive bombing" into the corner and making it three-wide. Johnson's day was the latest in a string of disappointing runs for the four-time champion who hasn't exactly been enjoying his day job since becoming a father.
The days of teams filling their seats with road racing "specialists" is dwindling in part due to the fact Sprint Cup regulars have upped their road circuit skills in recent years. But Boris Said usually finds a home and did Sunday with Team Red Bull. Unfortunately, the veteran road racer had his day end on the back of a tow truck when he got in a tussle with Tony Stewart that ended with the No. 83 Camry crashing hard into the steel guardrail. It capped a disappointing weekend for Said that included finishes outside the top 20 in both the Nationwide Series and Grand-Am Sports Car Series races at Watkins Glen.
Speaking of Team Red Bull, Scott Speed's career with the team is on thinner ice after he finished last on Sunday. Several sources are reporting Speed will be replaced before season's end in an audition-type plan for the 2011 season with several drivers, including Reed Sorenson, getting a chance to land a full-time gig next to the returning Brian Vickers next season.
"We've got to pick it up. We've got to keep getting better." -- Mark Martin
"It sucks when you have to drive with people with their heads in the wrong place." -- Greg Biffle
Marcos Ambrose -- He came up short again of a Sprint Cup Series victory but solidified himself as one of the sport's top road racers over a weekend that included a third straight Nationwide Series win at Watkins Glen.
A.J. Allmendinger -- Signed a contract extension with Richard Petty Motorsports to lock down his immediate future in the Sprint Cup Series and celebrated with an impressive fourth-place finish on Sunday.
Kyle Busch -- His day appeared over before it began when weight mounts broke and forced him to the rear of the field, but Busch (despite some chippy conversations with his crew over the radio) roared back for an improbable eighth-place finish.
Clint Bowyer -- Mechanical problems added up to a 32nd-place finish and a slide out of the coveted top 12 in the point standings with only four races to go until the Chase cutoff.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- His lackluster road racing career continued on Sunday with a 26th-place finish and despite Bowyer's problems couldn't gain any ground in the Chase race and in fact fell to 16th in the standings.
It's a repeat visit back to the Irish Hills of Michigan and the two-mile Michigan International Speedway for next Sunday's CARFAX 400.