Juan Pablo Montoya said his second Sprint Cup series victory comes as a relief, following a tough year for the Colombian and his team despite their best performance since their debut season.
The Colombian became the first foreign driver to win more than once at NASCAR's top level, with a commanding performance to keep Australian Marcos Ambrose at bay in the closing laps of Sunday's race at Watkins Glen. The victory arrived more than three years after his first one, which also came on a road course at Sonoma, which followed his first stock car win in the second-tier NASCAR Nationwide Series at Mexico's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, also in 2007.
Montoya has been close to victory on ovals a number of times over the past two years, most recently at Indianapolis, where for the second year in a row a strong chance of victory evaporated in the closing laps after leading throughout the race. The former Formula 1 race winner said his victory at Watkins Glen took some pressure off, as the many near-misses had built a growing frustration inside his team.
"The last few weeks have been really frustrating for the whole team because we've been so close to victory and it seemed to keep slipping away." said Montoya. "To come out here today and get the job done the way we did today, it was big.
"I feel more relieved than happy right now. It's been a really hard road in a way. It's been a lot of fun; it's been frustrating. To finally get that first win for Brian, I think it's good. I think we can really focus now on just getting the job done."
The mounting tension following Indianapolis and a misunderstanding between Montoya and his crew chief Brian Pattie had led to a rough exchange between the pair over the radio last week at Pocono. Montoya said they moved on from the issue and a meeting with team boss Chip Ganassi at Watkins Glen helped them put the matter to rest.
"As competitive as I am, he's as competitive with the racecar," said Montoya about his crew chief. "I think we both come here every weekend with one goal: win. When the wins slip away, either my fault, his fault, I think the fault doesn't really matter. When you go home empty-handed, it's frustrating.
"We have to learn how to make better judgment, myself make better calls when I'm driving, help them make better calls. I think we're really working together and understanding what needs to be done to win those races.
Montoya believes that despite being in his fourth year in the Sprint Cup series, he still has to master many aspects of stock car racing and admits to being accountable for mistakes that have probably cost him in past races.
The former Indianapolis 500 winner admitted that his hopes of being in the Chase this year are all but gone and that poor finishes early in the season made him run more aggressively hoping to making up lost ground, an approach that eventually caused them to be prone to making mistakes.
"I think last year we were so focused on making the Chase, it was all about numbers, It wasn't about being fast or slow, it was about bringing the car home," said Montoya. "This year we thought we were going to do the same thing. We had a blown motor race two, race three taken out by a teammate. I don't think it was on purpose, but we tangled.
"All of a sudden, you know, by race five we had three DNFs. When you have three out of five races, the DNFs keep happening, you have to be realistic about what's happening. You have to start being more aggressive.
"A lot of mistakes came, from my part and the team... I still got to learn. I still make a lot of mistakes personally. I'm still not sure a hundred percent when we make calls what we need to do. It's experience. We've just got to learn from it."
This year Montoya has led 13 of 22 races, including the last five before his Watkins Glen win. Two poles, five top-5 finishes and eight top-10s prove his speed has been at its best this season but seven non-finishes have dashed his hopes again of contending for the title. Despite that, he believes his team can build on this year toward a better 2011.
"I think we can learn a lot this season on how to execute a little better, prepare ourselves for next season," said Montoya.
"It's kind of funny. I think last year we didn't have the pace we have this year and we made the Chase pretty easy, I thought. This year [Earnhardt Ganassi Racing] had two cars capable of easily making the Chase, and both cars are out. That's what it is, I guess."