The team owner informed Montoya he will not bring the Colombian back for an eighth NASCAR season. Ganassi president Steve Lauletta announced the decision to the team Tuesday, multiple people present for the announcement told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Ganassi does not comment on driver contracts.
Montoya has been with Ganassi since 2006 when he abruptly left Formula One — where he had seven wins and 30 podiums — for NASCAR. It’s his second stint with the car owner — the two teamed together to win the 1999 CART championship and 2000 Indianapolis 500 before Montoya moved to F1.
But results in NASCAR have been sporadic. Montoya has just two wins in 239 career starts and his best season finish was eighth in 2009.
The poor showings led Montoya to rededicate himself this season and dial up his fitness, an effort to see if he’s been the problem with the No. 42 Chevrolet.
“I want to (expletive) succeed in this. I’m tired of sucking,” he said before the Brickyard 400.
Only there’s no clear answer to what has been the problem with Montoya, the No. 42 team or the Ganassi organization.
The program has been through several rebuilds since Montoya came aboard, and it was a middle-of-the-road organization when he signed on in 2006. It was Ganassi that was the draw for Montoya: The two had won 11 races together in 1999 and 2000 in CART, including the Indy 500.
Their first NASCAR season was decent and gave the organization a boost with a win on the road course at Sonoma, six top 10s and rookie of the year in 2007. But 2008 was the first sign of trouble — Montoya had two crew chief changes in the first 16 races.
Montoya made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009 with crew chief Brian Pattie behind a career-best 18 top 10s, and he was third in points with six races to go in the season before fading to eighth in the final standings.
He won on the road course at Watkins Glen in 2010, but Pattie was let go before Indianapolis in 2011 for Montoya’s fourth crew chief change. The Ganassi team began another overhaul that winter and Chris Heroy was hired as Montoya’s fifth crew chief before 2012. That entire season was spent trying to get the Ganassi cars up to speed.
With hotshot Ganassi developmental driver Kyle Larson waiting in the wings, the pressure has been on Montoya all season. Still, Larson turned 21 just last month and he has only 21 Nationwide Series starts under his belt.
While today’s NASCAR stars rave that Larson is the real deal, many believe it’s far too soon to push him into the Sprint Cup Series and Ganassi himself has said repeatedly talk about his future is just speculation. Larson has 12 top-10 finishes in Nationwide and is eighth in the standings.
Other options for the No. 42 Chevrolet could be Kurt Busch, who drives for single-car team Furniture Row Racing, or possibly Ryan Newman, who has been let go from Stewart-Haas Racing.
It’s not clear where Montoya goes next, either. He’s got an impressive résumé on the world level that’s not appreciated in the confines of the NASCAR garage, and there aren’t many open seats available — at least not any good ones — in the Sprint Cup Series.
It could force Montoya to look at sports car racing, a return to open wheel, or maybe even a European series if he chooses to continue racing.