Whether it's a driver in the top 12 trying to win a championship, a rookie trying to prove himself or a go or go home car just fighting to get back in the top 35, every weekend NASCAR provides 43 unique story lines for the fans to follow. He did, however, win the 2000 CART race there.
From Michigan to Miami, Patti Rodisch and I will be bringing you “The Lugnut Report”, a special look into the weekends of two different drivers—whether it's the conservative Chase driver racing for points or a non-Chaser putting it all on the line to win, you'll follow their weekend from qualifying to race day.
This weekend's driver lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears.
“Our real goal this year was making The Chase. When we sat down with Brian (Patti, crew chief) a year ago, we said next year we need to make sure to make The Chase and if we don't, we have to be a contender for it. We can't run 20th every week. We did that. We've been working, we are getting better every week and we just have to keep doing the same thing. By the time The Chase stars, we will see. I think you can start taking some more risks and see what happens.”
Michigan International Speedway hasn't been kind to Juan Pablo Montoya. On the verge of a Chase berth, Montoya has an average finish at MIS of 27.6, thanks to four straight finishes outside the top 20.
The bright spot? Montoya finished 6th in his last visit to the track, and has experienced Victory Lane—in CART.
Montoya was also riding the wave of momentum—his sixth place finish last Monday at Watkins Glen continued his streak of nine finishes in the top 12, and no DNFs. Oh, and the car he'd brought to MIS? His dominant Brickyard car, which led 116 laps in June.
The Colombia native, though, wasn't getting his hopes up.
“Normally, we really suck here,’’ Montoya told the media on Friday. “We really do!’’
And despite sucking, Friday's on track activities shined a bright light on was hopefully a good weekend to come for the No. 42 Target Chevrolet team. Montoya qualified third for Sunday's Carfax 400 after ending the weekend's first practice in the same position.
Saturday's morning pratice continued the momentum, as again Montoya put his car third on the charts. Happy Hour, however, wasn't so happy for the former Indianapolis 500 winner, as his car ended practice 20th.
Up and down pratice sessions would be a precurser of what was to come.
Taking the green flag shortly after 2:20 p.m. Eastern time, Montoya began falling back early after giving polesitter and eventual winner Brian Vickers a push. After being passed by the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano, the No. 42 EGR Chevrolet settled into sixth when the first caution for rain came out.
ESPN's Jamie Little interview his crew chief, Brian Pattie, during the caution. Pattie told Little he didn't plan to pit the car when the cars restarted 18 minutes later. A smile on his face, he told Little he plays poker "every Sunday."
After the restart, Montoya began to charge back to the front, passing Vickers back for position. Five laps after the restart on lap 19, Montoya had worked his way back into the top five, but constantly battled the No. 83, and would fall back to 8th by lap 35.
Green flag stops were a blessing for the loose Montoya, and once the cycle was done Montoya continued to run in the top ten.
Battling his racecar, JPM struggled to keep his car inside the top ten. After the restart for Robby Gordon's flat tire, Montoya seemed to be stuck around the 10th and 11th position after restarting 16th.
On lap 76 Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards made it three wide with Montoya for position, Montoya retaining a top ten spot. Ten laps later he was caught in another battled with David Reutimann in the No. 00, losing the ninth position.
"We're just making it worse. Look at where the (expletive) (No.) two is!" Montoya shouted into his radio. Frustration was mounting at lap 113 as wedge and air pressure changes failed to fix his loose car.
Just after pit stops on lap 117, where Montoya retained his 12th place position, the No. 42 narrowly escaped trouble between David Ragan and frontrunner Kurt Busch.
Despite working his way up to ninth, on lap 134 Montoya was less than happy with the continued adjustments his Target crew continued to make.
"Everything you've done to this car today has made it worse," JPM told them.
And things were about to get a whole lot worse for the seventh place man in the championship.
On lap 142, the little luck Montoya had ran out when he and the No. 9 of Kahne had contact, causing the left rear tire to go flat. The brake line also broke on the car, causing Montoya to lose a lap and fall back to 34th after the incident didn't bring out a caution.
"That (expletive) (No.) nine has run over us twice in the last three weeks!" Montoya's spotter angerly said.
It would take 18 laps, but with just 40 laps to go Montoya rebounded, getting the lucky dog award after Daivd Stremme spun for the second week in a row.
The No. 42 Chevrolet would take the restart on lap 161 in 34th. Two laps later, Montoya had already worked his way to 27th, and ran 23rd with just 12 laps to go in the event.
Montoya would finish the day in 19th, retaining his seventh place spot in the Chase. He is now 613 points out of first.
However, the hot tempered Colombian voiced his displeasure via his Twitter page:
"Had a rough day we had an ok car just couldn't get a good balance and the freaking 9 car ruin a 2nd race for us..... We move on to bristol!!"
Click here for Casey Mears' Lugnut Report.
Thanks to Detnews.com, NASCAR.com, JPMontoya.com, Racing Reference and EarnhardtGanassi.com for the information used in this piece. Thanks to Nate Ryan and Jeff Gluck for the quotes used in this piece.