HAMPTON, Ga. -- Kyle Larson may be taking over the No. 42 car beginning next season, but owner Chip Ganassi isn't ruling out working with outgoing driver Juan Pablo Montoya again sometime in the future.
Montoya's contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will not be renewed after this season, which means the end of a seven-year run with the Sprint Cup Series team for the former Indianapolis 500 champion and Formula One race winner. Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, EGR introduced current Nationwide Series driver Larson as the heir apparent to Montoya's car beginning in 2014.
But Montoya is clearly still in Ganassi's thoughts.
"Sure," the car owner said. "I wouldn't say the door is closed. Certainly the door is not closed. Having said that, the door is never closed to people we've worked with in the past. I think I've shown that. Drivers have left us and come back, they've left us and been back. So it's been all over the map. So no, the door is never closed."
Jamie McMurray, who has re-signed to continue in EGR's No. 1 car next season, is one example of a driver who left the organization and later returned. Montoya has also done the same, winning the Indy 500 for Ganassi's open-wheel program before reuniting with the owner in NASCAR following a six-year F1 stint that netted seven grand prix victories.
In addition to the two Sprint Cup cars he co-owns with Teresa Earnhardt, Ganassi also fields three IndyCar entries and one Daytona Prototype in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. Montoya has offered few hints as to his next destination, except to say he wants to drive a winning car and that his heart has always been in open-wheel racing.
"In terms of Juan, bringing him back to open-wheel racing, whatever, I think at this time let me say this: Juan has been a great asset to our team for many years. We've enjoyed a lot of success with him. He's not only a driver of our team, he's a great friend of mine," Ganassi said.
"I think there are always opportunities in our team that seem to present themselves. You never know from time to time when those come along. With all the different cars we have, it does make for some great opportunities at different times. I'm certainly not counting him out of any opportunities or potential opportunities coming along."
Following his third-place qualifying run Friday evening, Montoya said he had no news regarding his future. "When I know something, you'll know something. I'm looking at everything, to be honest with you," he said. And his relationship with Ganassi remains intact.
"The way I see it, when I talk with Chip, it's friendship above everything else," Montoya said. "We get on really well. He wants to go in a different direction, I understand."
Atlanta's qualifying session continued what's become a strong swan song at EGR for Montoya, who finished third last weekend at Bristol and hasn't placed worse than 11th the past three weeks. The Colombian is enjoying his most consistent stretch of the season even though he's looking for a ride for next year.
"We've been running this well all year, now it's just not falling apart," he said. "I mean, were haven't run out of gas, and we've been having good pit stops. Earlier in the year we were running this good, but we had like four races in a row when loose tires were happening and things were falling off the car. Now, it's good. The last few weeks have been really solid."
Whether or not Montoya drives for Ganassi in some capacity next season, the friendship between the two men remains -- which is why, Ganassi said, breaking the news to Montoya about not renewing his contract was so painful. Montoya has won two Sprint Cup races on road courses at EGR, and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup once since joining the organization in 2007.
"He's a good friend of mine, and we're going to remain friends," Ganassi said. "It was true, it was a tough decision. It was difficult to tell him that. It was not one of the more pleasant decisions of my life."
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