Juan Pablo Montoya is optimistic ahead of the start of his fourth full season in NASCAR, having taken eighth on the grid for today's Daytona 500.
The Colombian was among the top contenders during the second Gatorade Duel qualifying race last Thursday, leading laps and recovering to finish a strong third after losing the draft following the final caution. Montoya says his main goal thus far has been getting to the main race with his car in one piece, something he achieved with clean practice sessions and an incident-free run during his Duel.
He says his focus is now on racing intelligently, hoping he gets the most of having a good car for the season opener.
"I think we've got a good car," said Montoya. "But you have to be smart. In the Shootout, I pushed [Greg] Biffle really hard and damaged the front of the car. I went too hard. So [in the Duel] you have to be like self-conscious about what you did and how far you went.
"Our main goal really was trying to get to the 500 with the same car we practiced and qualified with. That was our goal and we did it. We got a decent starting spot and it's such a long race that it doesn't really matter where you start. The big thing is that we've got a good car and that goes a long way."
Montoya expects today's race to have a wild finish, and that NASCAR officials might have to take advantage of the extra attempts at a green flag finish now permitted following this week's rule change. Both Gatorade Duels have had very close finishes, while the Budweiser Shootout finished under caution due to a multi-car accident last week.
"I wouldn't be surprised that we will have more than one green-white-checkered," Montoya said. "Honestly, people are racing really clean but you're pushing and you know, [in the Duel it] was only half a field. And it was out of control. It was good, but it was out of control.
"I think it's going to be interesting because you're going to have a lot of the good cars up front because the way the tires wear and everything at the end they're going to be a handful. But, yeah, it makes it interesting."
Montoya refuses to speak about winning the Daytona 500, but he says if he were to win the race one day it would be right up there with his greatest victories, such as his Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix wins.
"Well, it would be as high as the other ones," said Montoya. "It would be cool to win them all. But right now, I don't think about it. I didn't think about it when I won Indy or Monaco.
"Afterward, you go, 'Oh wow, I won this.' But you ask me today and you've got to take it like any other race. You've got to make your pit stops and make sure you have a good balance, and keep the car in one piece for when it counts."
Besides his third place from last Thursday in the Duel, Montoya's best finish at Daytona in a points-paying race came when he took ninth last year in the summer race, having finished 14th in the rain-shortened opener a year ago.