COMMENTARY | Juan Pablo Montoya is a good guy for NASCAR to have around.
He's an interesting character who makes things fun and often riles up his rivals; he's a championship-caliber driver who has won at every level he has competed at in motorsports; and NASCAR is better off for the fact that he came to drive stock cars after his Formula 1 career ended and brought legions of fans with him.
But let's be honest here: Juan Pablo didn't do too much of note while driving for Chip Ganassi at the Cup level for the past seven years.
Sure, he did win a couple road-course events, but that's to be expected for a road-course ace like Montoya. He only made one Chase, and most of the time that he raced, he wasn't a factor up front.
Was that the team's fault for giving him lackluster equipment, or the driver's fault for not getting the most out of the equipment? Probably a little of both, but here's the reality of this situation: There is no reason to cry for Juan Montoya after he lost his ride, because he'll be just fine.
I'd bet my right arm that a driver of the pedigree of JPM will find another ride, assuming he wants to keep racing. He showed some spark earlier this year and nearly won some races, and, if that fire is still there, he could break out if he lands at the right team. The Ganassi team is better off trying to rebuild with a new pilot, and JPM needs new surroundings to get his focus back. It's like most relationships -- after a while, they just don't work that well.
What's next for Juan?
Sure, Juan's gotten a lot of folks upset at him over the years, due to on-track skirmishes and the like, but if you're looking around for a talented driver, you can't look past Juan Montoya. He joins Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman in the marketplace during a very strong year for teams seeking free-agent drivers to sign.
It's possible Juan will say he's had enough and retire to enjoy spending his many millions and flying his model airplanes, but I wouldn't bet on it. I think he'll land somewhere in Cup and do pretty well (or at least as good as he's currently running).
Even teams not openly seeking a driver might be tempted to lure him in to replace a current driver who is struggling (many of the mid-level teams would fit this category, as the top-tier teams probably will steer clear of Montoya as their rosters are pretty solidified, with the exception of Richard Childress)
Vickers and Martin
It was announced that Brian Vickers will race the 55 car full-time for Michael Waltrip Racing next year. No more sharing, and a capable, winning driver like Vickers has just completed a great comeback -- and he's on a very strong team. MWR has top talent in Bowyer, Truex and Vickers. They'll do well next year, possibly winning a lot of races if they keep up the momentum of 2013.
With Vickers' arrival, that means Mark Martin has no part-time ride in 2014. I'm not sure he wants to quit racing, so look for someone (perhaps Furniture Row or another mid-level or small team) to explore adding a second team that could run part-time and take Martin on board -- if Martin so desires to join them. He's been through all the big teams, it seems like, so unless he wants to return to full-time racing, I don't see Martin getting back in one of the top rides.
How will it all shake out?
Regarding Silly Season, here are my predictions:
1. Ryan Newman replaces Kevin Harvick in the 29 car at RCR; and Austin Dillon comes to Cup full-time in the 3 car for RCR (yes, the 3 is coming back, mark my word).
2. Kurt Busch replaces Montoya at the Ganassi team in the 42 car. Target would love to have a comeback story like Kurt driving for them next year, and he can win races if given decent equipment.
3. Montoya could replace Kurt at Furniture Row. They'd be lucky to have him.
4. Mark Martin could retire, or he could go to another part-time ride and what seems like his eighth job since his "farewell tour" season in 2005. He loves to race, and will do it until he's in a rocking chair (and he's in pretty good shape, so that is far away).
Don't rush Larson up to Cup
While I'm here, I have a word of caution to Chip Ganassi: Don't rush Kyle Larson up through the ranks and give him the 42 car. That's a bad idea, as he needs to take his time and not go the Joey Logano route.
Logano's cautionary tale is that young drivers need time to develop and shouldn't be hurried. The time of a Jeff Gordon starting as a teenage-wunderkind and instantly doing well is gone -- that was a special thing that won't be repeated often. Drivers need some time in Nationwide/Trucks to develop their abilities. The Cup series at a very young age is too much for most, if not all, of them to handle. Go with Kurt Busch for a couple years, and, later on, bring Larson into the fold. There's no rush and the future is infinitely bright for young Kyle.
And let's not forget, of course, that more hire-able drivers could get fired and shake things up even more.
That's why they call it Silly Season, and I can't wait to see how all the dominoes fall.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Chip Ganassi
- Kurt Busch
- Mark Martin