CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was so much buildup for Juan Pablo
Montoya's first NASCAR road race, he knew only a victory would satisfy his critics.
So when he crossed the finish line for his first Nextel Cup win June 24, Montoya couldn't help but feel relieved.
"So many people thought I would win. It didn't really matter if
I thought I would win. Because, yes, we were going to try, but a
lot of people just thought it was automatic," Montoya said of his win at Infineon Raceway on June 24.
"So when it was over, I was just so, so relieved that it was
like taking pressure off my shoulders. It was a really big thing for me."
Considered one of the world's best road racers, Montoya knew he
was expected to put on a show at the winding course in Sonoma,
Few took into account that Montoya's still learning stock cars,
that his Chip Ganassi Racing team lags behind NASCAR's elite
organizations and that victories can be few and far between in NASCAR.
Consider that Montoya's win:
Was the first Nextel Cup victory for car owners Chip Ganassi
and Felix Sabates since October 2002.
Was the first win for crew chief Donnie Wingo since he led
Geoff Bodine to a 1993 win in Sonoma.
Sent Sponsor Texaco/Havoline back to Victory Lane for the
first time since Ricky Rudd won at Sonoma in 2002.
Was the first win for the No. 42 since Joe Nemechek drove it
to a 1999 victory at New Hampshire.
Montoya's victory was his first in 17 Nextel Cup starts and
marks his first finish higher than 20th since placing eighth at
Texas on April 15. There's no denying the switch from Formula One
to stock cars has been difficult, and the Montoyas are increasing
their commitment by relocating to the Charlotte area.
They've been based in Miami for years, and Montoya was adamant
that he wouldn't move to NASCAR's hub. But his wife, Connie,
recently suggested they should consider it, so he's looking for a second home.
"I never thought I would get a place in Charlotte, and the
wife, normally we wouldn't move," he said. "But Connie said we
need to move, she said 'We need to stop running 20th every week.'
We will still be based in Miami, but I am going to start spending a
bit more time in Charlotte.
"I think it will be best to help drive the team forward, to be
around for support and to show how much this means to us."
Although he's 21st in the points and has struggled at times on
the track, Montoya is having a fabulous year that started with a
victory in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona road race, a Busch series
win at the road course in Mexico City and now the Cup win. He's now
the third driver -- joining Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney -- to win
in Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR.
But the tough times at Darlington, Dover and Michigan have been
humbling for a driver who has won the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco
Grand Prix and a CART championship.
"This isn't easy stuff, but I never thought it would be,"
Montoya said. "We've been working so hard lately, and the last few
races were tough. So this is a good step. I mean, I was definitely
going to try to win in my first year. But could we do it? It is
really hard to say it could be done.
"I am very happy we got a win, but there's so much more work to be done."
Q: It sounds like Connie has a lot of influence in your career --
from saying in Victory Lane she knew you would win and now telling
you to spend more time in Charlotte. Has it always been that way?
JPM: "You know, lately, she's been really, really, really,
excited. She just really enjoys NASCAR, and we both just want to
win as much as we can."
Q: How was Chip after the win?
JPM: "He told me he nearly had a heart attack. I will say
that's the happiest I have seen him, maybe he was like that a
little bit in Mexico City, but before that it had not been since
the Indy 500."
Q: What about your family?
JPM: "My father said he almost had a heart attack, too. He was
very happy. Only he and Connie were there. And my sister"
Q: Oh, your kids missed it? Does (2-year-old son) Sebastian understand it yet?
JPM: "He is really surprising how good he is. He really picks
it up. He can look at the TV, and he knows what car is mine. He
sees the Texaco star and he says 'Papa,' straight away. It's really
pretty cool. But he was not there. He didn't know I won."
Q: Have you heard from anyone since the win?
JPM: "Kevin Harvick came to Victory Lane to say
congratulations, and I saw Jeff Gordon and he said 'Great job.' And
both of my teammates came. It was very nice."
Q: Is this the happiest you've ever been?
JPM: "Yeah, as a person, I am really happy right now. Working
with Chip has been really cool. I really like Chip. He believes in
you, and he supports you. He's just a guy that really believes in
me, and he'll trust you 100 percent. Chip is a guy if something
goes wrong, he still always believes I can get the job done."
Q: Been a long time since you received that kind of support from a boss?
JPM: "I don't even want to discuss that."
Q: So has life changed as a Nextel Cup winner?
JPM: "No, I played golf and was on the Jet Skis a bit, playing
in the water. But now we go to New Hampshire, and it's a bit like
getting back to reality. There's a lot of things that need to be
done. We cannot forget why we are here, because it's about winning more than road courses."
Q: Yes, but the Sonoma win put you in some pretty elite company.
Does that mean anything to you?
JPM: "I'm really happy, really relaxed. When you think about
it, I've won in anything and everything I've raced. Even this year,
I've won so far in a Grand Am car, a Busch car and now a Nextel Cup
car. That's very big. But my place in history? Not so important
right now. Maybe when I am 60."