Juan Pablo Montoya has already proved he can run up front, lead laps and even dominate a race. But Montoya is yet to claim his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series oval track win.
When Montoya and the Sprint Cup stars descend upon Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Sunday, the Chase contender could very well end up in Victory Lane at an oval track for the first time on the Sprint Cup Circuit.
Montoya has been electric at Atlanta Motor Speedway at times, but it doesn't necessarily show up in the record books. In his first appearance in Atlanta, Montoya claimed fifth in the 2007 Kobalt Tools 500 and he also finished 16th in the event on year later.
But he also has poor showings - 40th (accident) and 38th - in his two Pep Boys Auto 500 starts in 2007 and 2008, resulting in the worst career-average finish in Atlanta of all Chase contenders (24th). Despite these numbers, Montoya knows he runs well in Atlanta, often showing spurts of brilliance and high speed on the track's high banks.
"I don't know why we always run good there," said Montoya. "Last time, we were there we weren't as good as we wanted - we just ran okay. Overall, as bad as a place like Michigan has been to me, Atlanta has been good to me. It's pretty exciting to go there. It's always a lot of fun there. You run right up against the fence."
And Montoya's preferred line at Atlanta may be his path to Victory Lane. The high lane at Atlanta has long been the favored fast line to the finish. Able to carry more momentum out of Turn Four, those looking for a last-second pass for a win often go high exiting Turn Four - and in Montoya's case, insanely close to the wall.
"You couldn't put a piece of paper between Juan Pablo's car and the wall," said Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway's president and general manager. "He runs up high the entire race and he has been real quick here. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him finish in Victory Lane."
A win at Atlanta would not only give Montoya his first oval track Sprint Cup win, but also secure his place in the Chase for the Championship and give him 10 critical bonus points.
"We'll see [if it's possible to win the Chase without a race win]," said Montoya. "We still have a few races before the Chase starts and once the Chase starts ... We'll see where we stand, how the car is performing. I think you can start taking some more risks and see what happens."
Despite running well in Atlanta in the past, the 2009 edition of the Pep Boys Auto 500 includes the added uncertainty of determining Atlanta's character at night prior to Sunday.
"It will be interesting to see during a different time of year how the track behaves," said Montoya. "It should be much better. I always like running in the dark. It will be a lot faster, but it's the same for everyone. I think Goodyear had a good tire test there and we should come back with a good tire."
For race fans and pundits picking against the conventional wisdom and drivers in Atlanta for the Pep Boys Auto 500, the time might be ripe for Montoya to make his first return to a Sprint Cup circuit Victory Lane.