SONOMA, Calif. — The pressure is off Juan Montoya to win at Sonoma Raceway, where his road course background has created an expectation for him to win every year.
As he inches closer to finally winning on an oval, the annual stop at the 1.99-mile road course has become less stressful. Montoya has four top-10s in six career starts at Sonoma, where he earned his first Sprint Cup victory in 2007.
"We've been running really good on ovals, but I'm excited to come here and see how we run," Montoya said Friday. "I think it's exciting to come here because first we've got a shot at a win, worst-case scenario we can score a lot of points. We've got to make sure we execute and do our things right and see what happens."
Montoya is 22nd in points after a slow climb behind stronger finishes in the past eight races. He has three top-10 finishes and contended for wins at Richmond and Dover.
He wound up second to Tony Stewart at Dover, where some wondered if the fiery Montoya had mellowed because he didn't put up a fight when Stewart passed him for the win. The common thinking was the old Montoya might have wrecked Stewart to preserve a victory.
"Or old Stewart would have put the old Montoya in the wall. It's a two-way street," the Colombian said.
But that doesn't mean that, going into today's Toyota/Save Mart 350, Montoya doesn't want to win. He admitted he's starving for a victory — the last of his two Sprint Cup wins was in 2010 at Watkins Glen.
"It's hard because I think we're still in a position where we can make (the Chase for the Championship) on points, top 10," said Montoya, who qualified 13th Saturday. "I want to win badly, but I want to make the Chase even more badly. We've got to take chances to win, but we've got to take more chances to score big."
McMURRAY on pole: Jamie McMurray was the surprise pole-sitter for today's race, beating favorite Marcos Ambrose with a fast lap of 94.986 mph around the 1.99-mile course. NASCAR for the first time used group qualifying, and McMurray and Ambrose, who qualified second, were together in the final group. Tampa's Aric Almirola (93.038 mph) lines up 32nd, alongside Danica Patrick in Row 16.
Fired up: Toward the end of his first qualifying lap, Martin Truex was distracted by smoke from an electrical fire in the cockpit of his No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. "The last few turns of the lap, I definitely screwed up, " he said, "because I had smoke flying, and it smelled really bad, and I was like, 'Oh, no, what's going on here?' Truex, who is 13th in the standings, 12 points outside the top 10, kept it together enough to qualify 14th.
. fast facts
Sprint Cup points
After 15 of 36 races. The top 10 in points plus two wild cards after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
J. Johnson 538—
Carl Edwards 507 31
Clint Bowyer 489 49
Kevin Harvick 476 62
Matt Kenseth 456 82
Kyle Busch 452 86
D. Earnhardt Jr. 447 91
Greg Biffle 443 95
Brad Keselowski 430 108
Tony Stewart 417 121