This time of year, we spend almost all our time focused on the 12 Chase drivers. But there are another 31 guys in the field who get almost no love. Let's rectify that, shall we? Today, we focus on Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished third in Sunday's Talladega two-step.
The only reason Montoya is getting the Marbles profile treatment in this space is because he happened to be in third place when the final-lap AJ Allmendinger wreck exploded. It could just as easily have been almost any of the other non-Chasers out there, as everyone was taking their turns up at front. But Montoya was the lucky fella who got the last chair at the top-3 press conference.
We've theorized before here that Montoya is the best driver not in the Chase, and quite a bit better than several of the guys who are among the top 12. But as with his teammate Jamie McMurray, it's feast-or-famine with Montoya, and on this day, he feasted. He had a plan, but as is always the case at 'Dega, the plan went out the window once the race began.
"The plan was to run 90 laps in the back," Montoya said. "At least, my plan. We ran into lap 60, got a caution. Nobody really wanted to run in the back. I said, I'm not going to run back here, back of the pack, so I went to the front." From there, Montoya was in front almost the entire time. He noted that the caution could be the best thing that could have happened to him, given his history.
"Twice here, I've been running second or third, whatever," he said. "Every time you're there, a caution comes out on the last lap. If you make a move, then it doesn't come out and you finish 20th."
Montoya remains one of NASCAR's enigmas, a phenomenally talented cat who can't seem to sustain over a full season. Once he figures it out, if he ever does, he could own this joint. But until then, the rest of the field can just wait until he runs over his own foot. Metaphorically speaking, of course.