Montoya frustrated after another crew chief swap
CHICAGO -- The challenge was leveled over the loudspeaker at the end of a long day at the All Candy Expo.
"Juan Pablo Montoya," the woman called. "Come take the Toxic Waste Challenge."
After a roller-coaster 24 hours, Montoya finally smiled. He popped a "hazardously sour candy" into his mouth Wednesday and successfully kept in for the one minute challenge time.
"It was pretty sour to start with, but it went away pretty fast," he said. "It wasn't that bad."
Montoya can't say the same for the events of this week. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge was released by Chip Ganassi Racing on Tuesday and Montoya heads into this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 with his third crew chief in less than a month.
Elledge came aboard in late April when Ganassi moved Donnie Wingo, who had guided Montoya's transition from Formula One into NASCAR, to Reed Sorenson's team. Montoya got Elledge and was pleased with the direction his No. 42 Dodge was headed.
But in what Montoya described as a "management decision," Elledge was let go and Brian Pattie was moved from one of the Nationwide Series crews to run Montoya's team.
"I wasn't really part of it, so, I am pretty frustrated," Montoya said. "They told me `We are thinking of getting rid of Jimmy' and I said `Don't do it.' Next thing I knew, they did. That's what happened. You are going to have to ask somebody else about it, because I wasn't involved in this."
Although he didn't think he needed to lose Wingo when that move was made, Montoya said he understood it because he believed Wingo could help Sorenson save his struggling season. And even though the results weren't there yet with Elledge -- they were second in their debut race at Talladega, but struggled in the three after that -- Montoya liked the direction Elledge was taking the team.
"We were taking a very different route, and I was willing to see where it led," he said.
Now he starts over -- again -- and is concerned about forward progress with the entire organization. He points to his debut Cup race at Homestead in the 2006 season finale, when he was running near the top 10 before an accident with Ryan Newman ended his race.
"I think it's really hard that in my first mile-and-a-half Cup race, I was very close to getting a top-10 finish. Two years later, we're running 20th," he said. "We should be a lot further. We should be a lot better of a team right now, and we're not."
Montoya said he's spoken several times with Ganassi in the 24 hours since Elledge was let go, and expressed his frustration with the situation.
"We talked, and I told him how I felt and that's it really," Montoya said.
Montoya said he's got faith in Pattie, "He's a really smart guy," he said, but worries that all the changes over the past month are unsettling to the entire race team. He expects more movement behind the scenes.
"More has got to be coming. I don't think we have made as much progress as we need to," he said. "In the beginning of the year, I thought we made gains over where we had been running. We seem to have lost that over the last few weeks, and we need to find more speed.
"I don't think frustration is the word for how I feel. I think it's more -- there's a lot of effort put into it, and a lot of people working their butt off and we're not getting better. It's annoying."
Montoya's Q&A with AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:
Q: Wrigley's brought you to the Candy Expo to sign autographs and meet fans, then you got a chance to walk around and visit the booths. How did you like it?
JPM: It was cool. There was a lot of nice candies and a lot of nasty ones. It was cool to see Wrigley's with a car there and to see a company so pumped up about it. it was really cool to be part of it.
Q: What did you like best today?
JPM: I'm trying to think what was the best thing today. I was surprised to see how many people came for autographs to an event that was not racing-related, and to see how many countries they came from -- England, Germany, Italy, the Spanish people. That was cool.
Q: Wrigley's does a lot of fan interaction with you. They take you out to the campgrounds at select races to surprise fans and stage events like today. How do you like that?
JPM: I think it's really cool to be in contact with the fans because they do a lot for us. To be able to have them there is pretty exciting.
Q: Do you like working with Wrigley's?
JPM: Love it. It's a really cool company, a company that tries to maximize all their efforts and makes you want to work really hard for them and make sure they are happy.
Q: You've done a few commercials for Wrigley's -- Juicy Fruit and Big Red spots- that people find very funny. How did you like doing them?
JPM: They were really weird when I did them. I felt like slagging off -- that's an English term, it's like I was insulting the brand. I read the script and thought if it comes out funny, it's going to be really funny. If it comes out wrong, it's going to be horrible.
Q: So you had to act?
JPM: I had to act. I tried. I've done a lot of commercials over the last few years. At the beginning it was really hard, the expressions you have to get across, but in time you learn to do it. I'm not great at it, but I'm not bad.
Q: That's not your wife, Connie, in the Big Red commercial. Who is the hot chica?
JPM: It's Connie's pilates instructor. It was supposed to be Connie, but it was five hours in a hot tub, it wouldn't be a good idea.
Q: How did you get her?
JPM: They hired her. Connie didn't even know about it. It was totally random. She called Connie and told her she'd been cast.
Q: Did you do any pilates with her?
Q: Why not?
JPM: I don't know. Remember, it's Connie's pilates instructor. Not Juan's pilates instructor. It's very different.
Q: What's the difference?
JPM: You tell me. I don't do pilates, that's the difference. I know where you are trying to go with this. I'm not doing it.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index