SONOMA, Calif. The pressure was on Juan Pablo Montoya last year when he arrived at Infineon Raceway expected to score his first Cup Series victory.
The road-racing ace delivered, winning when he was able to stretch the gas in his No. 42 Dodge all the way to the finish line. Now he's back, without the target, and a much different attitude.
"There's no pressure at all," Montoya said. "It's a great race to win, but it's sort of like 'Been there, done that.' I don't need to win to prove anything."
So Montoya is totally at ease heading into Sunday's race he has used his time in California to play a round at the exclusive Sonoma Country Club, shop with wife, Connie, and enjoy local fare with friends his family.
His crew chief, meanwhile, could barely sleep.
Montoya might not be feeling the pressure, but Brian Pattie most definitely was.
"There's a lot of pressure. A ton," Pattie said before practice Friday. "But that's because I want to win a Cup race."
And if there was anywhere that the struggling Chip Ganassi Racing team can do it, it's on a road course.
The team has three road racing veterans running this weekend in Montoya, former IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and former Grand-Am Series champion Scott Pruett. Although Franchitti struggled through his first practice around the 10-turn, 1.999-mile course, all three could conceivably challenge for the victory.
But it's Montoya that everyone looks to lead the charge, and Pattie is responsible for giving him a car capable of winning. The two have only been together a month, as Pattie took over the No. 42 crew in late May in the third crew chief change this season for Montoya.
Their four races together have been a frustrating cycle of one step forward, one step back with crashes in Charlotte and Pocono, a 12th-place finish at Dover and then a miserable 38th-place showing last week in Michigan.
Despite the results, the duo has finally settled in with each other and are moving forward committed to turning the team around.
"He is who he is, and as long as you know that and accept that, you are fine," Pattie said of the passionate Colombian driver.
Now they've turned their attention to Sonoma, where Pattie brought a brand new car and last year's notes to give Montoya a chance to win. Because he won on fuel mileage strategy, Montoya isn't shy about admitting he didn't have the best car here last year.It's a sentiment shared in the garage, as some are naming veterans Jeff Gordon (nine career road course wins) and Tony Stewart (six) more credible favorites to win Sunday.
KAHNE WINS 2ND POLE IN 3 WEEKS: Kasey Kahne continued his recent hot streak Friday by winning the pole at Infineon Raceway for his best career starting position on a road course.
Kahne was the third driver to make his qualifying attempt and his lap around the twisting track at 92.153 mph was good enough to hold the top spot for the entire session. It was his second pole of the season, and second in three weeks.
It's Kahne's best start at a road course, bettering the second-place qualifying effort he made at Watkins Glen in 2006. His highest start in Sonoma was sixth that same season.
Jimmie Johnson qualified second with a lap at 92.040 and Kurt Busch was third with a lap at 92.005.
Kahne has been on an incredible run since winning the All-Star race last month, backing it up with victories in the Coca-Cola 600 and two weeks ago at Pocono. He was second last week in Michigan.
Bobby Labonte qualified fourth and was followed by five-time Infineon winner Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and Marcos Ambrose. Robby Gordon, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle rounded out the top 10.