Juan Pablo Montoya says his ninth place in Sunday's Bristol NASCAR Sprint Cup race is a sign of things to come from him and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing this season.
The Colombian had qualified 12th for the event but he quickly moved inside the top ten and raced there for most of the distance. For a while he struggled with the balance of his car in the second half of the race, but an adjustment during the following pitstop allowed him to move up in the order once again.
His race was not without incident though, as he tapped the rear of Jamie McMurray's Ford on lap 124 while fighting for fifth place, a move he later lamented, accepting he misjudged the Roush Fenway driver's entry speed into Turn 1.
Montoya says Sunday's race shows his team is definitely making progress and he believes a good result had been due since the end of last season, when he ran well many times but could not get the finishes to show for it.
"It was a tough race and we had to work hard for our top ten," Montoya told autosport.com. "I'm really happy because this shows where the team is heading and where we're really at right now. We've been close to a good result for a while, even since the end of last year but we had just been unlucky."
The EGR driver says his team has put more emphasis on trying to hit the track on Fridays with a better baseline set-up, so that it is able to run well in qualifying and not be too far off a race balance.
He says the Atlanta race from two weeks ago made EGR dig even deeper as he expected a good result that didn't come in the end at a track he considers to be one of his best.
"To be honest we've been doing our homework," Montoya said. "We've been trying to arrive at the track with better baseline set-ups to qualify better. At Atlanta two weeks ago we were shocked that we didn't run well in the race because that has always been one of our best racetracks and it ended up being the worst thus far.
"It was a wake-up call for everyone in the team and it put us to work even harder."
Having run well at Bristol, Montoya is confident that his team can fight to be in the Chase this year as he expected Sunday's race to be a difficult one. In the past, he says, short tracks had been the team's Achilles' heel.
"The short tracks have been typically our weak point in the past, so running well at them will really help us," said Montoya. "If you can't run well at these tracks you're not going to be in the Chase. You've got to be there at every type of track to be able to think about being in the top-twelve in the championship.
"That's what we want to do. Is it going to be easy? No, but I think we've got a car to give the fight."
Montoya doesn't necessarily expect his Bristol pace to translate to next weekend's event at Martinsville, but he says his team will prepare as well as possible by testing this week.
"Martinsville has always been good to me, but the fact that we ran well at Bristol doesn't automatically translate into running well at Martinsville," he added. "We're going to test this week to make sure we've got the right package suspension and brake-wise for next weekend. We'll see."
Montoya currently ranks 15th in the drivers' standings, ahead of his EGR team-mates Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola.