Timing is perfect for Montoya’s rally

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The timing may be right for the perfect storm for Juan Pablo Montoya. On the outside looking in at NASCAR’s top 12 contenders throughout 2009, Montoya has gained to the point where he is only 43 points away from a berth in NASCAR’s elite top 12.

Now, with only 11 races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Montoya will be in his element when he gets behind the wheel of his No. 42 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway, one of the Sprint Cup’s two road-course tracks.

Montoya was one of the world’s premier road racers prior to joining the stock car ranks. He won seven Formula One races, the 1999 Champ Car title and 11 open-wheel races, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500, prior to making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut for Chip Ganassi in the 2006 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, along with winning at Infineon Raceway.

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After final finishes of 20th and 25th in his first two NASCAR seasons, Montoya is getting the hang of driving the 3,400-pound machines. He’s coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes, placing eighth at Pocono and sixth in the LifeLock 400 at Michigan, moving to 14th in the series point standings.

Shakeup in top 12 with Martin’s win

Mark Martin’s last-lap victory at Michigan vaulted him up the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. After starting last Sunday in 13th place – one point from the top 12 – Martin leapfrogged all the way up to eighth.

David Reutimann was the loser in the mix, falling from 11th to 13th in the standings after finishing 19th. Now, he trails Jeff Burton by three points in the battle for a share in racing’s elite dozen.

NASCAR “regulars” vs. road course ‘specialists’

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visiting California wine country for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, one can expect to see several specialists competing at Infineon Raceway for the first of two road-course events this season.

Sunday’s race will be no exception. Veteran road racers Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier and Brian Simo are expected to be among the competitors suiting up to tackle the 12-turn, 1.99-mile circuit.

However, one can also expect to see the top stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holding their own.

The days when a road-racing specialist could come in and dominate a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event have passed.

Jeff Gordon leads the list of NASCAR’s all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winners on road courses with nine victories – four at Watkins Glen International and five at Infineon Raceway.

Tony Stewart is tied with four other drivers – all oval track aces – at second with six triumphs. Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace also have five road- course triumphs.

While popular American Formula One driver Dan Gurney scored five victories at Riverside back in the 1960s, the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series non-regular to win in the series was Mark Donohue, at Riverside in 1973.

In recent years, many drivers with road-racing roots have turned their attention to NASCAR – with outstanding results.

Montoya and Scott Speed raced in Formula One. Robby Gordon and A. J. Allmendinger were winners in Champ Car, while Papis, a rookie of the year candidate this season, was a Grand-Am Rolex Series champion.

Fast Facts

The Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350

The Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile, road course)

The Date: Sunday, June 21

The Time: 5 p.m. ET

The Distance: 218.9 miles (350 kilometers)/112 laps

TV: TNT, 3:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius XM Satellite

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

NASCAR Sprint Cup Point Standings – Top 12

Driver Points

1. Tony Stewart 2,189

2. Jeff Gordon 2,142

3. Jimmie Johnson 2,047

4. Kurt Busch 1,961

5. Ryan Newman 1,934

6. Carl Edwards 1,927

7. Greg Biffle 1,913

8. Mark Martin 1,868

9. Kyle Busch 1,860

10. Denny Hamlin 1,849

11. Matt Kenseth 1,848

12. Jeff Burton 1,810