Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Montoya races to season-best with new crew chief

AP , CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

A new crew chief helped Juan Pablo Montoya to his best finish of the NASCAR season, a second-place showing at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

But Montoya thinks it’s far too early to tell what impact Jimmy Elledge will have on his team. Elledge and Donnie Wingo switched teams, with Wingo going to Reed Sorenson’s crew, right before the Aaron’s 499 on Sunday.

It was part of the shakeup owner Chip Ganassi had warned was coming as a means to jump-start his slumping teams, but Montoya was hesitant to credit Elledge for the outcome.

“I think here, the difference between Donnie and Jimmy, I don’t think there’s any difference,” Montoya said. “We were always in the right place at the right time [at Talladega] and I don’t think Donnie would have done anything different.”

Still, the finish had to buoy a team that entered Talladega a disappointing 17th in the Sprint Cup standings. With the second-place finish, Montoya jumped all the way to 12th and into contention for a berth in the Chase for the championship.

It marked a banner day for Ganassi, who in addition to Montoya’s finish, got two wins in two different series on Sunday. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas teamed to win the Rolex Grand-Am event at Virginia International Raceway and Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar Series race at Kansas Speedway.

“As a team owner, who is involved in a number of different series, you live for days like that,” Ganassi said.

Now he hopes the success will continue for his NASCAR operation, which is led by Montoya. The three Sprint Cup teams have lagged behind the competition this season, and they head into Richmond this weekend with Reed Sorenson ranked 32nd and Dario Franchitti’s team 36th. Franchitti broke his ankle in a wreck at Talladega and will miss the Richmond race.

But it will be the first true test of the crew chief swap, and Montoya is eager to get more involved with Elledge.

“Jimmy and I have a good relationship and I think we will work together very good,” Montoya said. “But Donnie and I had a good relationship, too. I really liked working with Donnie. He looks after the driver and I’m a little sad about it. But it was what was best for the overall team, the change was needed and that’s where we are.

“Whatever is best for the team is what I will do,” he said.

Montoya was teamed with Wingo when he made the jump from Formula One to NASCAR, and the veteran helped Montoya adjust to stock cars as he eased into his new series. He took a conservative approach that helped Montoya win in Sonoma last year en route to Rookie of the Year honors.

Elledge, on the other hand, is a known gambler who will get aggressive in search of victories.

Regardless of what Elledge does to improve the No. 42 team, Montoya believes Sorenson will benefit the most from the move.

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