In his third NASCAR season, Juan Pablo Montoya has settled into stock-car racing. Formula One is a distant vision in his rearview mirror.
"In NASCAR, it's all about the racing," Montoya said last week during media sessions in New York previewing the Chase for the Championship. "In Formula One, it's all about the car.
"In Formula One, when [a rival] is doing something wrong, you take pleasure out of it. Here, you go to the guy and say, 'Dude, if you do this, it's going to be better.' You don't want the guy to beat you, but you want to help him. When I came here, everybody opened the doors to me."
And now, the doors are open to the first foreign racer to qualify for the Chase. A third-place finish at New Hampshire Sunday in the Chase opener has Montoya, a native Colombian, fourth in points heading into Sunday's race at Dover, Del.
While Montoya still isn't sure his No. 42 Chevrolet team is ready to win the Chase, he plans to race aggressively.
"There's no holding back. We have to go," he said on a conference call this week. "We are trying to drive the car as hot as I can. I don't want to leave anything on the table."
The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner has been pushing his team to keep improving. Midway through last season, Montoya, team owner Chip Ganassi and new crew chief Brian Pattie decided their goal for this year was to make the Chase.
"The middle of last year, I was celebrating when we finished 17th or 16th in a race," Montoya said. "This year, we really raised our game. I haven't been patient about [succeeding]. If you're patient about it, you're never going to achieve it. If you want something done, you have to push people."
Montoya, 34, felt like pushing Mark Martin on the final laps at New Hampshire. Martin led after a restart with three laps to go. Montoya said Martin slowed in Turn 2 just enough to affect Montoya's momentum.
"He did what he had to do to win the race," Montoya said. "It's fun when you do it to someone else, but it's not when they do it to you."
Minutes after the race, Montoya said in a television interview that if it happens again, he will "bump" Martin, but not wreck him. Previously, Montoya and Martin have displayed mutual respect for each other.
The New Hampshire finish is another installment of Montoya's NASCAR learning curve.
"Here, you've got to learn to give people room," Montoya said in New York. "If someone is [passing] you, make sure you give him room, because the next time you come to him, the guy's going to give you some room.
"Every time you have a problem with somebody, the following race you're going to be beside that guy. You want to make sure you have the least amount of enemies." *