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Juan Pablo Montoya ready for life after Ganassi team

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Aug. 16, 2013

Juan Pablo Montoya doesn’t know what’s next for him, but he’s ready for something that has mostly eluded him in seven years as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver:

"The only thing I know is that I want to be in a winning car," said Montoya, who won’t return to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2014. "I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I want to make sure it’s in a winning car."

Montoya will finish the season with Ganassi, including Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. But it’s been another disappointing year for Montoya, a Colombian who has never quite found his way in NASCAR after having huge success in open-wheel driving.

Montoya is winless this season in the No. 42 Chevy and is mired in 22nd place in the Cup standings. His best finish was a runner-up at Dover in May, but that’s one of just three top-fives.

In his six-plus seasons with Ganassi, Montoya has two victories – both on road courses at Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen. N.Y .– and made the Chase for the Cup once (2009).

Those lack of results are what ultimately led to his dismissal by team owner Chip Ganassi, a move that hasn’t been formally announced by the team but was confirmed by Montoya on Friday outside his hauler at the Michigan track.

"It’s been a fun seven years with Chip," said Montoya. "There have been ups and downs, but at the end of the day, I want to win races and (Ganassi) wants to win. He thought it was time to try something different."

There are few drivers in the world as talented as Montoya. His career achievements include victories at the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, open-wheel events.

But his open-wheel skills haven’t translated to NASCAR. Montoya joins other open-wheel stars like Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchiti and Sam Hornish Jr., who struggled driving stock cars.

"I feel like you need five years to really know the tracks and cars," said five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, when asked why the open-wheel stars haven’t been able to adjust to NASCAR. "Juan is at the seven-year mark. You kind of get to a spot where you’ve got the experience and there are many reasons why things might not work."

Johnson said a major difference between an open-wheel and stock car is the high amount of downforce that an open-wheel car has.

"There are challenges (in open-wheel) racing that I don’t understand and sensations that I don’t get," said Johnson. "It’s such a different world in a high-downforce car than in what our vehicles do."

Montoya said he’s already heard from other team owners, but wouldn’t say if he would return to NASCAR or return to open-wheel racing in either the IndyCar or Formula One series.

The departure of Montoya creates a vacancy at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Potential candidates who might replace him:

• Kurt Busch, who drives for the single-car, low-budget Front Row Racing.

• Kyle Larson, a rising star in the Nationwide series who also drives for EGR.

• Ryan Newman, who won’t be back at Stewart-Haas Racing.

• Mark Martin, out of a ride next season with Michael Waltrip Racing after the team picked up Brian Vickers full-time.

Scott: 705-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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