After two years of miserable races, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing (EGR) has finally returned back to its old form. Although they haven’t quite gotten rid of all the bad luck that seems to haunt the two car organization, the cars seem fast again and have made monumental progress in their overall performance. McMurray sits a solid 12th in the standings with three top 10’s in 2013 which already equals his total from 2012. Juan Pablo Montoya has been snake bit by wrecks and mechanical failures that have kept him deep in the points but he proved at Richmond what is possible for that No.42 should he stay out of trouble.
Montoya ran up front all night and not many people could say after an event that saw more comers and goers than any race in recent memory. He led 67 laps and finished 4th after a late race caution thwarted his chances of a victory. His last top five was way back in March of 2011 when he finished 4th at Martinsville and he hasn’t led that many laps since his win at Watkins Glen nearly three years ago. It would be ignorant to say that Montoya doesn’t have the talent but it would be acceptable to say that the poor man has no luck at all. Even though he came home with a 4th place finish Saturday and seemed pretty happy about it, the Colombian was all but guaranteed a win as he pulled away from Kevin Harvick until a caution with four laps remaining jumbled up the running order. He restarted 6th while eventual race winner Kevin Harvick restarted 7th and starting on the inside is what won him the race. Had the roles been reversed, Montoya would have most likely been the one passing Jeff Burton with one lap to go.
McMurray restarted the race 2nd but the field basically ran him over with how old his tires were finishing a disappointing 26th. Even with the unsatisfactory result, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner finds himself just 26pts out of the top 10 and ahead of champions such as Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart. In 2009 and 2010, EGR asserted themselves as one of the better teams winning four races including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. They also put Montoya in the 2009 chase and had the Wild-Card existed in 2010, McMurray would have been in it with his three wins. It looks like they are steadily turning things around and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of their drivers make the chase this year. At the very least, I see both McMurray and Montoya winning a race before the year is over.
Is it the switch Hendrick engines that has helped this team or is it something else? People were shocked when team owner Chip Ganassi didn’t make any major personal changes following their dismal 2012 which saw Jamie finish 21st in points and Juan 22nd. I have to give major props to Chip for not overreacting to what seemed to be a hopeless situation in the eyes of most. Kevin Manion and Chris Heroy are still the crew chiefs and the combinations seem to be working well. All this team lacked was speed and I believe Hendrick power has given them that missing piece they needed to run up front again. Chip felt it would be imprudent to turn the team inside out after all their struggles saying this during the off season; “We’re not afraid to make changes, but we’re not going to make change for the sake of making change.”
That risky ideology looks like it was the right call after all. Between McMurray and Montoya there are 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, 9 Nationwide wins, 3 in Grand-Am, 10 in open-wheel and 7 F1 victories that include races such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. There is certainly no lack of talent there and now they have the cars to back their fully capable drivers up. The travails of the past two years has finally ended and EGR has 27 more races to parlay these great results into race wins and they can do it. Watch out for these two because they could easily become two of the biggest upsets in 2013 and if the bad luck ceases, they will become threats to win almost every single week.