After a dismal 2011 season, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing went out and stole Hendrick engineer Chris Heroy to serve as Juan Montoya’s crew chief in 2012. Meanwhile, Jamie McMurray will continue to work with crew chief Kevin Manion as they attempt to recreate the magic that led to three wins—including the Daytona 500—and a near miss at a Chase berth in 2010.
In this installment of Sports-at-Work’s 2012 NASCAR team previews, Luke Krmpotich and Sam Salo take a look at EGR and forecast what to expect from the team in 2012
Jamie McMurray - #1
Sam: McMurray is trying to rebound from a lowly 2011, which saw team #1 finish close to 30th in points rather than 10th as hoped. In 2010, McMurray won a trio of racing in a veritable hat trick, picking plum wins at Daytona, Indianapolis, and Charlotte in the fall.
The goal for 2011 was to finally make the Chase and gun for championship contention. However, the polar opposite of this came to pass with a 27th-place points finish. Nevertheless, the sights are high once again, and no less than Chase contention and a trip or two to victory lane will provide satisfaction to McMurray and company.
Luke: Jamie McMurray’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, hitting some impressive highs (winning in his second Cup start and the 2010 Daytona 500 win) and some discouraging lows (losing a prime ride with Roush Fenway, struggling mightily in 2011). Perhaps his difficulties last season foreshadow an upswing in McMurray’s fortunes in 2012.
Look for EGR’s resurgence to begin in the Daytona 500. McMurray and Juan Montoya work well together in the draft and should be in the mix at the end of the race, provided they avoid the crashes that plagued the team at restrictor plate races last year. If McMurray can get off to a solid start to the season and challenge for some wins, making the Chase is a definite possibility.
Juan Pablo Montoya - #42
Sam: Bitten by EGR's struggles, Montoya suffered a well-documented year of misery in 2011. Only a few seasons back Montoya methodically parlayed a Chase berth into a close championship fight. But it’s been all downhill since that success, which recently has only served to accentuate 2011's lack of wins (0), top-5’s (2) and top-10’s (8).
Montoya has proven himself Chase-worthy in the past, but to this point a lack of consistency—stemming from his infamous impatience on the track—and lack of wins on oval tracks have kept Montoya from truly breaking out. Now that EGR is loaded with sponsorship and revamped with energy, expect Chase contention and an oval win out of Montoya in 2012. The man simply has too much talent not to get things figured out.
Luke: Juan Montoya is one of the most difficult drivers in NASCAR to figure out. His temper and penchant for driving equipment to the limit are well-known, and yet, in 2009 the Colombia native was successful in sticking to a conservative game plan and making the Chase as a result.
Can Montoya do it again? Is the former Formula One star even interested in playing a cautious game in an attempt to maximize his points finish?
Or will he and new crew chief Chris Heroy take an aggressive approach, going after the elusive oval-track win that Montoya so badly wants to add to his resume?
If I had to guess, I’d bet on an overall conservative approach. The No. 42 team needs to get back on its feet before trying anything to risky. However, if Montoya is successful at making the Chase, at that point I would expect to see the team pull out the stops in an attempt to make the most of a championship opportunity.