He is in it for the first time, but that is not enough for Juan Pablo Montoya. He figures as long as he is in the Chase for the Championship, he might as well do his best to win it.
Montoya is off to a good start toward that effort. He dominated practice and qualifying last weekend in New Hampshire before finishing third in the Sylvania 300. He is fourth in points, 55 behind leader Mark Martin, going into today's race in Dover, Del.
"For the Chase, you know, we have to bring our A-game, and we did," Montoya said. "There's no holding back, nothing, we have to go. We have to try to go every week. Some weeks are going to be better than others, but it's time to go."
Montoya, who drives the No. 42 Chevrolet, has arguably made the biggest leap in the Sprint Cup this year. The former Indianapolis 500 champion had not shown signs in his first two seasons that this would be his breakthrough year.
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He finished 20th in points in 2007, earning Rookie of the Year honors. But he went winless last year and wound up 25th.
This season got off to an interesting start after his Ganassi Racing team merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. The change to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and a solid relationship with crew chief Brian Pattie has served Montoya well. He has kept his emotions in check and avoided the highs and lows that can doom a title chance.
His calmer side showed this week, when he was upset with the way New Hampshire winner Martin raced him in the final laps Sunday. But by Tuesday, he was already thinking about Dover.
Pattie, who took over as the crew chief early in 2008, has a lot to do with that.
"My relationship with Brian has gotten a lot better, so we understand each other a lot better," said Montoya, who has not won this season but does have 13 top-10 finishes. "When I mention something to him, he understands better what I want out of the car, and likewise, you know, when he makes changes, I'm a lot more comfortable when he makes changes now than I did before, and all that contributes."
The changes have not gone unnoticed by Montoya's Chase competitors.
"It's a team that you can't take lightly," driver Kurt Busch said. "Does Montoya have enough experience? Does Brian Pattie? Does the whole program have what it takes to go through a 10-week stretch? That's yet to be determined."
Montoya knows that's true, too.
"We are doing the best we can and hopefully we are going to be good enough to at least fight for it," he said. "We don't have the experience yet or anything. It's our first Chase, and we just want to make sure we don't leave anything on the table. By the time Miami comes, we want to make sure we gave our best to make sure we gave ourselves a chance. That's all we can do."