(Photos: US Presswire)
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No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Revealed Wednesday
Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
2008 finish: 25th
2009 outlook: By all statistical accounts, Juan Pablo Montoya regressed in his second Sprint Cup season.
Coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he won a race, JPM suffered through a long and arduous sophomore campaign that featured a series-high nine DNFs.
So what leads anyone to believe that 2009 will be any better?
Montoya has talent, and everyone knows it. He's not like the other open-wheelers who have come, struggled and gone. While the results don't show it, he's finding his comfort zone in a stock car and is getting closer and closer to earning his first victory on an oval. (His lone Cup win came on the road course at Sonoma.)
Like new teammate Martin Truex Jr., Montoya's biggest problem isn't his talent, but the team he drives for. Clearly the merger between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing is meant to strengthen both teams, but what does that mean when neither was very strong to begin with?
Montoya will continue to show flashes of brilliance and may, on talent alone, will himself to victory lane. But a lack of consistency inside the garage will make it difficult for him to crack the top 15 in the points standings.
What you need to know: There are signs Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing could be down to just two cars following the Daytona 500. (Aric Almirola will compete in the 500, but beyond that sponsorship is questionable.) How will that impact Montoya? Well, it shouldn't, considering since joining the Sprint Cup Series he's never relied on (or even had the luxury of relying on) the support of a strong team.