Starting with this Sunday's Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, twelve drivers will embark on a ten-race chase for the most prestigious title in North American auto racing: the Sprint Cup championship.
Among them: Juan Pablo Montoya, the open-wheel refugee three years into his transition from fender-less automobiles to the much heavier NASCAR chassis.
The Colombian-born racer has more than just a championship to win, though.
He has history to make.
Having won in Formula 1, what is now IndyCar, and NASCAR, Montoya is a member of an exclusive category that includes the iconic names of Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney.
Juan Pablo now has a chance to do something neither of them, or anyone else, did. By virtue of making the Chase, the driver commonly referred to as JPM has a shot add a NASCAR title to his 1999 CART crown.
Ask AJ Allmendinger or Christian Fittipaldi about the transition from Champ Cars to stock cars.
Montoya is a racer in every sense of the term, from his willingness to try all forms of motor racing (in addition to the aforementioned series, Juan has also participated in the 24 Hours of Daytona, an event he has not surprisingly been victorious in) to his fearless moves like the ones race fans were treated to during the Pennsylvania 500 this year as the Indianapolis 500 champion dared to go three-wide, middle groove, turn three.
In a world of polished, corporate, generic-brand drivers, Juan Pablo does his best to stand out, on and off the track.
Wouldn't it be refreshing if that true competitive spirit and natural ability witnessed only before in the likes of legends was rewarded?
Can Juan hold his own against the likes of Johnson, Stewart, Martin, and Gordon? It remains to be seen, but there's no doubt he won't go down without a fight.
Montoya certainly didn't against men like Michael Schumacher across the pond in Formula 1, and has started his Chase off on the right note with a track record-shattering lap in Loudon qualifying.
As Juan Pablo Montoya looks for his first oval win this weekend, and ultimately, a Sprint Cup championship in ten weeks' time, the South American pilot knows very well that he's no longer "ex-F1."
No, he's much more than that.
Now, after making the Chase, Juan Pablo Montoya is what he intended to be when he started three years ago: a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
And a darn good one at that.
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