By admin | July 19, 2011
By Richard Allen
Word has come during this off week for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team of Juan Pablo Montoya has removed crew chief Brian Pattie and replaced him with Jim Pohlman.
Montoya and Pattie had been linked as driver and crew chief since mid-way through the 2008 season. In their time together the pairing amassed one win, 16 top-5 finishes and 40 top-10 results. The one year anniversary of that one win will soon be coming up at Watkins Glen in August.
Coming out of this weekend break, the Sprint Cup Series will head to three consecutive tracks at which Montoya has a chance to do well. Indianapolis, Pocono and the afore mentioned Watkins Glen are next on the schedule. That said, this may not have been the best time to switch pit bosses.
Any new combination of driver and crew chief takes time to come together, or otherwise said, to get on the same wavelength. Having to go through a learning process while at the same time competing on the few tracks in which the team might actually have a chance to win will make for an awkward time of transition.
But looking at the bigger picture, I question whether any crew chief change will help this driver. During his first season or two in NASCAR I thought Montoya was going to develop into a championship contender. However, after seeing him essentially level off, if not even regress, over the last couple of seasons I have come to believe Montoya is what he is, and not much more.
A look at his statistics helps to bear this out. From 2008 to 2009 Montoya went from three top-10s to 18 top-10s, an impressive improvement. Since then, however, his numbers have declined. And more telling, he has never been a solid top-5 performer, which would be necessary for a championship contender. In 2009, he had seven top-5s, which is an all time high.
And more, throughout his career there have really only been three tracks(Sonoma, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis) at which Montoya has been a serious contender to win on any sort of regular basis. Even at those venues he has mustered only a total of four top-5 results.
On a weekly basis I listen to almost every driver at some point during each race via TrackPass on NASCAR.com. Easily, Montoya is the most needy. His spotter and crew chief are constantly having to assure that he has just made a good corner or a good lap or that he is doing a good job in traffic. This reinforcement occurs on the #42 channel far more than on any other frequency. At the same time, Montoyaâ€™s criticism of his crew is relentless.
After a run-in with Montoya earlier this season at Sonoma driver Kasey Kahne stated that, â€œLast year when (the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) cars were really, really good and Jamie McMurray was the man, Juan still couldnâ€™t win a race. That shows about what he can do here in NASCAR anyways.â€
McMurray did win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the fall race in Charlotte but Kahne was wrong in that Montoya did manage a win at Watkins Glen. However, Kahneâ€™s point was well taken. Montoya has just never evolved into a real contender anywhere other than road courses and Indianapolis, where he once won the Indianapolis 500.
No matter who Juan Pablo Montoyaâ€™s crew chief may happen to be, he will have a driver that has a realistic chance to win about three times a year and the rest of the time needs unending reinforcement while delivering unending criticism.
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