Montoya Ready For The 500 And Future

Juan Pablo Montoya practices his Team Penske machine for the Indianapolis 500. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Juan Pablo Montoya practices his Team Penske machine for the Indianapolis 500. [Joe Jennings Photo]

by Paul Gohde

His record is wide-ranging and immaculate. He’s won in Indy cars, Rolex 24 Hours and Formula One. NASCAR poles, top-ten finishes and Rookie of the Year honors are part of his resume. He’s won a CART Championship, two Indianapolis 500’s and became the first foreign-born driver to win multiple NASCAR races. Yet, though he’s been a regular Penske Racing driver since 2014, he was out of a ride this season except as the team’s fifth member for the two Indianapolis races in May. But Juan Pablo Montoya seems happy with his current situation and is looking beyond the 500, even though at this point, as qualifying looms, he’s the fastest Chevrolet driver, faster by three mph than young Josef Newgarden who replaced him at Penske.

“I think it (experience) helps here. I don’t play big into qualifying; I never have here. You know what I mean?” Montoya asked, giving his 2015 win as an example. “I proved it two years ago when I won. After eight laps I was dead last.

“It doesn’t really matter where you qualify. It’s nice to be up front, to run good here,” noted the 15-time Indy car pole winner. “I think we’ve got good cars. But the main focus, you know, you remember who was on the pole here when you come back a year or two after, but the people I remember are the people that win the race. You know what I mean? That’s what you want to do.”

And what about his return to Penske on a limited basis for the month of May? “Personally, I’ve come here for myself. Just doing this race for Team Penske is to win it. You know what I mean? I feel (I have) a good shot,” said an always confident and honest Montoya. “I’ve got a really good car. I don’t believe in numbers either, you know. It’s what it is.”

What it is for Mr. Penske’s team is making sure you are near the front as the race winds down and in position to win; but don’t ever tangle with a teammate. Roger doesn’t like that

“The people that win this race are prepared, they’ve got good cars and they execute on race day. There are so many chances you have to take, or maybe you could take, that the drivers have got to say: ‘Hey, I’ve got to be ready, I’ve got to be there at the end of the race,’ noted the Captain about the team’s winning strategy. “We say in that last 50 laps you’ve got to be able to see the front. That’s kind of been our motto.”

And no one knows that better than JPM who has been known to not only want to “see” the front, he often wants to get there any way possible.

“Two years ago,” battling for the lead with teammate Will Power, “both of us were going for the win. You keep in the back of your mind that it’s your teammate and you want to be fair…but at the same time, you’re the guy who wants to win it. You’re not going to risk taking each other out either.

“To be honest, whether it’s my teammate or not, you’ll go as far as you think it’s safe to do so.

“We (Team Penske drivers) are all experienced guy’s, we’ve all done it. Eight or nine days from now we can be in that situation. It’s a good problem.”

And next season? Well, Penske Racing is rumored to be running a Honda-powered Daytona Prototype in the IMSA series. Penske’s other vet, Helio Castroneves, might make a great partner with Montoya in that endeavor. At last week’s Indy Grand Prix, he may have hinted at that project being his next step when asked about any animosity he may have felt after losing his full-time role with Penske. “That could have been a choice of mine as well. But what I had with Team Penske for now and in the future I thought was the best opportunity.” We’ll find out soon what that “future” with Penske really is.

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