With the way our season's been going, I haven't been able to attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events for a while, so I went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday to watch the Goodyear test and to chat with Juan Montoya and his crew chief Brian Pattie. Those guys are working really hard, and I don't think a lot of people realize how competitive it is in Cup – or how desperate some of the people you're racing against are to stop you from getting a top-10 finish! They don't want you to finish in front of them, and although there aren't 41 of them who can stop Juan and Jamie McMurray, there' are probably 25 who can.
I think that's what Juan and Jamie are going through at the moment – both how competitive the field is and the fact that they're up against drivers who want to carnivorously kick their asses. So our boys are working very hard to get to the front, and our qualifying efforts are very reflective of how much progress they're making. With that many cars out there, you're not going to qualify at the front consistently unless you've got a really good car, and that's what the No. 42 and No. 1 have been doing.
Juan has obviously been in the news this past week after a run-in with another driver at Richmond, but I don't want him to lose his fire. That's what everyone here enjoys about him so much – he's a free spirit; he just enjoys racing for the pure joy of it. He hasn't been tamed. He certainly lives within the confines of what it takes to be a successful race driver in his current branch of the sport but, at the same time, Juan is the same driver who drove IndyCars and Formula 1 cars, and that personality, combined with absolutely amazing talent, is what we enjoy about him.
I was disappointed with what went on at Richmond, but disappointed in the sense that I just wish we could see Juan race all the way to the end of a race, relatively trouble-free. He represents all of us in racing, but he also represents a demographic that needs to run at the front in NASCAR, too. It's a fan base that should have more attention.
One year, I think it was 2000, when Juan was racing IndyCars for us, we were at Vancouver and when the race was over, CART did its best but couldn't restrain the immense crowd that wanted to get into the transporter area, so finally the security people gave up. The Hispanic spectators around our transporters were so deep that we literally could not get our equipment to the tailgate of our truck for 90 minutes. We too, had to give up. Juan stood out there for quite a while signing autographs, but then he had to give up as well, because he was getting trampled in the stampede. Amazing scenes. And the thing is, almost everywhere we went, we encountered that fervor.
Another cool memory: When Juan signed with Chip to drive NASCAR, he was in the middle of the Formula 1 season, and was still abroad. So when Chip and I arrived back at the Los Angeles airport, we got out of the plane, and when the golf cart came to take us the 50 feet or whatever to the terminal, the driver kept looking around and up at the plane. Chip said, “OK, let's go. What's up?” and the guy says, “I was waiting for Juan Montoya to get out of your airplane.” This was only four or five days after the announcement. Chip says, “Sorry, he's not with us,” and the guy replies, “Oh, that's too bad. Chip, thank you very much for bringing Juan back to America. We love watching him race.” That was a really neat thing. This would all mean less if he wasn't such a great driver, though. When he was in our IndyCar team, I was his spotter for the oval races and standing up there and watching him change his drive style to pass somebody was quite remarkable.