The Quiet Contender: Juan Pablo Montoya Just Keeps Coming

David ScercyCorrespondent IJune 14, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 12: Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

The same names every week just keep popping up when someone discusses who will win the Sprint Cup—Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch.

When talking about the teams fighting to get into the chase, again, the same names keep popping up—David Reutimann, Kasay Kahne, Brian Vickers, even Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But quietly, one team has put it together to become serious contenders to block a big name from the chase.

Juan Pablo Montoya and the Target Chevy No. 42 team do not have the stats in 2009 that will “wow” anybody. Montoya has not posted a win or a top five yet in 2009. But the consistency is becoming evident for the team as we approach the chase cut-off.

Juan Pablo has posted six top 10s in 2009. That’s more that Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have. Matt Kenseth, one of the most consistent racers of all time, has six top 10s. If you combine Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasay Kahne’s top-10 finishes, it is one more that Montoya’s.

Montoya is 14th in Sprint Cup Points and 43 points from the cutoff with 11 races remaining until the Chase. It’s clear that he has an uphill battle, but with an eighth-place finish two weeks ago in Pocono, a sixth-place finish in Michigan, and the tour headed to Sonoma next Sunday, Montoya could be looking at a major momentum swing in his direction.

Juan Pablo is a road racing expert, to say the least. His only win on the tour came at Sonoma in 2007, his rookie season in Sprint Cup.

Every time the series goes to a road course, Montoya is a contender. He will likely unload fast, qualify up front, and lead some laps this week.

The secret to the team’s recent success could be crew chief for the No. 42 Target Chevy Brian Patti. At 34 years old, Patti could be entering the critical phase in his career where he excels and becomes a star.

In Patti’s first full-time Sprint Cup crew chief gig, he has shown that he is here to stay in the sport. Under his leadership, the Target team has slowly become one of the teams that run up front almost every week. And now it appears they are learning how to finish there as well.

If there is any driver that is looking forward to Sonoma, it is Juan Pablo Montoya. The driver and team know that they have to take advantage of this opportunity if they are going to make the chase.

The rest of the sport better take notice. Just as quickly as you hear the Target Chevy of Juan Pablo Montoya approach and you see him in your mirror in Sonoma, he will blow by and once again Montoya and the No. 42 car will get quiet again as it leaves you in the dust.

This is a driver and team that should not be ignored anymore. I predict that the “quiet contender” will be making some noise in victory lane—real soon.