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Montoya and Pattie found a way to work together, though, and Pattie in 2009 sold Montoya on a program that resulted in his most successful NASCAR season. Montoya made the Chase, notched a career-best 18 top-10s, and was third in points with six races to go in the season before fading to eighth in the final standings.

He should have won at Indianapolis that year and finally crossed winning on an oval off of his list. Instead, he was flagged for speeding on his final pit stop and his lead of more than 5 seconds was wiped away. After leading a race-high 116 laps, he finished 11th.

He should have won the race the next year, too, after leading 86 laps. Only a late caution for debris sent him onto pit road, where Pattie called for four new tires as teammate Jamie McMurray only took two. It sent Montoya back onto the track in seventh, angry and frustrated, where he ultimately wrecked trying to pass cars in traffic as McMurray went on to win the race.

Although he went on to win on the road course at Watkins Glen later that year, Montoya didn’t have another chance on an oval. Pattie was let go the week before Indianapolis in 2011 _ Montoya’s fourth crew chief change_ and the team began an overhaul that winter. Chris Heroy was hired as Montoya’s fifth crew chief before 2012, and the entire year was spent trying to get the Ganassi cars up to speed.

So the stat line shows just two wins _ none on an oval _ and 54 top-10s in 230 career starts.

Stewart is quick to point out that’s not Montoya’s fault.

“At this level, it truly is about the people that you’re with,” said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR champion. “It’s like he mentioned the other day, he went through the lowest of low times last year with Ganassi and those guys have made huge, huge steps in their program this year. Now they are reaping the rewards of it, both him and Jamie. It’s good to see, because Juan is a championship-caliber driver.

“Where he was running in the field last year is not indicative of his skill and talent as a driver, and it was good to see him in a position to win the race.”

Montoya was also in position to win at Richmond in May until a late caution sent the field down pit road one final time. It took away his chance at victory and he settled for fourth. But after a series of early season issues and pit-road miscues, Montoya has climbed from 30th to 22nd in the standings and has three top-10 finishes in his last five races.

More important, he was in position for two wins.