Juan Pablo Montoya remains optimistic about his prospects for the rest of the season and is happy with the progress made by his team in the first 11 races of the year.
The former Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix winner is currently in his third full year in NASCAR with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and he currently ranks 14th in the driver standings, only 16 points out of the top-12 as the season approaches one-third distance this weekend.
A year ago Montoya started working alongside Brian Pattie, who was his third crew chief during the season. Twelve months later the Earnhardt Ganassi driver reckons he is far better equipped, making him optimistic for the rest of the season and achieving his goal of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"I think if you look at where we were last year, we were actually not that bad in points when the crew chief started to change, but our car was nowhere near where we are right now," said Montoya. "Also I think the performance of the car and the company moved a long way. We're running Chevys now and that's huge. I think the whole thing has been really good for us.
"If I look at myself now and I look at myself a year ago, last year we were there because we finished every race but this year we're there because we've got a fast car. I'm pretty optimistic that we have the chance of making the Chase. It's not going to be easy, but the potential is pretty encouraging."
The Colombian says he needs to improve his finishing average in order to be able to get inside the top-12 in the championship by the time the playoff starts. He expects the next few races to be crucial for his team, as previous results at upcoming venues have not been good enough.
He feels he has a good chance of a good result this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, which he starts from ninth place, his best-ever grid position for the event. Although he wants to win, he says his focus remains in the point standings.
"You say the magic number is a 14.5 [finishing] average and we're like a 15-something," Montoya said. "You know, it is what it is. I think for us the next four or five weeks are really important; they are weeks that we normally run really bad.
"You know, last year at this race, I qualified I think 42nd. This year, we qualified in the top 10 and I think we have a top 10 car if not better.
"It really shows where we are. I think Dover is a good racetrack for us. Michigan is a tough one and it's always been a tough one If you look the places where it's been tough on how we've been running, you know it should be good. As long as we keep running the way it is, we have two good road courses and you know I think we have a good chance of winning there.
"Of course we want to win races. But the main goal is to make the Chase. We're just thinking about big points."
Montoya, the only driver ever to compete in the big three races to be held this weekend, still has only one win to his name in the Sprint Cup, which he claimed in his debut season at Infineon Raceway.