Juan Pablo Montoya quiets NASCAR critics with Indy 500 victory

George Diaz
Contact ReporterBy George Diaz Orlando Sentinel
Juan Pablo Montoya: A wheelman who overcame NASCAR setback

If you're a racing fan, you've heard the jokes and laughed at the memes mocking Juan Pablo Montoya.

The guy who hit the jet dryer in a race at Daytona. Let the wrath of the Internet begin:

"Face it he sucks."

"Jaun [sic] Pablo knows how to stop a race."

"Juan Pablo Montoilet."

Sorry, Internet. Juan Pablo Montoya wins. He flushed all the criticism last weekend by winning his second Indianapolis 500. In three tries. Not too shabby.

So what if Montoya couldn't cut it in NASCAR? Perhaps you may have noticed there is a bit of a difference in the cars. Big ones. Start with a closed cockpit vs. an open one. Indy cars weight about half as much (1,565 pounds vs. 3,200 pounds). Stock cars can handle a bit of the bump and grind. Tap an Indy car and it goes flying in the air.

It's like assuming someone proficient on skis can become a great snowboarder, or a roller-skater becoming proficient at ice skating. It doesn't translate.

"It's completely different," he said last year when we chatted about the experience. "The NASCAR one was ... like, 'Where the hell am I?' "

Montoya won only two races — none since 2010 — and remains infamous for sliding into a jet-dryer truck during the 2012 Daytona 500, sending flames into the night.

Montoya gave it a try after joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006, betrayed by false expectations after making the Chase in 2009, before realizing it was pointless to continue trying.

"It's like somebody pulled the parachute," Montoya said Monday. "It got to a point where you could qualify for the pole. But it's funny because they hired new people. When we went to New Hampshire, Loudon was one of my better tracks, having been on the pole there. I qualified 31st. The guy tells me I have no idea how to drive the car around that place — because they had the setup that won last year with a different car, different geometry. But the same setup.

"I don't know. I always say everything happens for a reason. I look back at it and I think I had a great experience in NASCAR. You know what I mean? I learned a lot, won some races, fought a lot. I learned to race a lot smarter, to be honest.''

And despite the noise on the Internet, Montoya is highly respected by his former competitors on the stock-car circuit.

"I don't think I've ever seen Juan so excited ever in all the time I've spent around him, so that was really cool to see his excitement and how much that race meant to him," said Carl Edwards, who won the Coca-Cola 600 later on Sunday. "He is such a tough competitor, just a real racer, and that was neat to see him get that victory for his whole team."

Added Dale Earnhardt Jr. via Twitter: "During his time in @NASCAR, @jpmontoya was always really cool to me. I looked up to him as a true wheelman. So good to see him win today."

Juan Pablo Montoya, a true wheelman. Hate on the Internet, but you lose.

gdiaz@tribune.com Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego

Joe Gibbs Racing's big week

That loud rumble you hear belongs to Joe Gibbs Racing. That crew left skid marks all over everybody at Charlotte Motor Speedway the last two weekends. To review:

Denny Hamlin won the All-Star Race. Matt Kenseth captured his 15th career pole last Thursday, for the Coca-Cola 600. And then Carl Edwards won the thing, thanks to some nifty fuel-mileage calculations by crew chief Darian Grubb.

"This one feels different," Edwards said after banking his first victory with a new team. "I don't know how to explain it other than to just say that it's a big relief, and more than that, it's just a big opportunity. I mean, this — I've been doing this long enough to know that you're a lot better off to go to the races in the position that we're going to go now.

"You go there a little more relaxed. We can focus on being the best team we can be in those final 10 [postseason] races. I can let Darian and these guys work on what they're good at, and that's making the cars better and figuring out the communication, instead of going and trying to fight and claw for a points position or a win. Now we can go and just become better, and that's what we need."

As Kenseth noted a few days earlier: "Denny cleaned up last weekend."

And then everybody else chipped in to complete the clean sweep.

NASCAR honors vets

NASCAR honored Memorial Day weekend by prominently featuring the names of fallen service members on cars as part of NASCAR's "An American Salute" initiative during the Coca-Cola 600.

But there was plenty more of respectful memories. Taya Kyle, widow of Chris Kyle of "American Sniper" fame, became the first woman to receive the racetrack's annual Stonewall Jackson Award (awarded to "those individuals who demonstrate the highest standards of patriotism").

She recently wrote a book titled, "American Wife — Love, War, Faith and Renewal."

And Hisense, the title sponsor of the Xfinity Series on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, announced that it was donating 20 of its new 50-inch 4K TVs to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Kyle Busch impressive

As if there wasn't enough good fortune smiling down on Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend, Kyle Busch not only endured the longest race of the season but finished 11th.

All this in his first points race back since suffering a broken right leg and left foot at Daytona International Speedway in February. The injuries sidelined him for the first 11 Sprint Cup Series races of the season.

"I'm a little surprised that I feel as good as I do," Busch said after the race. "I was expecting to be a little bit more beat up and tired, but honestly, I'm not. I don't know if that's there could be two sides to that.

"If you go week-to-week-to-week, you could grind yourself out and you get tired, whereas I just took a three-month vacation so my body feels pretty good and it's only been beat up in the gym. Other than that, you know, I feel like this was a good night and a great accomplishment."

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