LONG POND, Pa. – Finishes of third, second and seventh the previous three races underscored Juan Pablo Montoya’s assertion that he’s “making progress every week” in his return to Indy car racing after a 13-year absence.
Earning the Verizon P1 Award on July 5 for the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco – the 15th of his Indy car career and first since Surfers Paradise in October 2000 – bolstered his rise.
On July 6 --13 years, 9 months and 20 days after his last Indy car victory at Gateway International Raceway -- the 38-year-old CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner celebrated in Victory Circle again after prevailing in the fast and furious 200 laps on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval.
Montoya, the eighth different driver this season to claim the Verizon P1 Award, is the eighth different race winner through 11 rounds of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. He’s the first to win from the pole this season.
Click it: Box score || Listen to Montoya post-race news conference
"That's great for Juan; what a great race he ran," said Roger Penske, who welcomed Montoya as the third driver at Team Penske this season after the intervening years in which he competed in Formula One and the NASCAR Cup Series.
Montoya, driving the No. 2 PPG Team Penske car, led teammate Helio Castroneves across the finish line by 2.3403 seconds. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished third for the third time this season and Ryan Briscoe finished a season-high fourth. Scott Dixon, the winner last July at Pocono Raceway, placed fifth.
"I want to thank Roger for believing in me after so many years out of an Indy car," said Montoya, who claimed his third Indy car 500-mile race victory. “This is fantastic. Things were going good, but you never know when you're going to get a win. We did the right things and got the win, and we're at a good place at this point of the season."
Only two other drivers in Indy car history since 1909 have gone more than 10 years between wins (Babe Stapp from Sept. 19, 1927, on the Charlotte board track to Aug. 27, 1939, at Milwaukee; John Paul Jr. from July 17, 1983, at Michigan International Speedway to Sept. 20, 1998, at Texas Motor Speedway).
With one caution, the race was the third-fastest in Indy car history (202.402 mph) and the first 500-mile race with an average speed above 200 mph. Jimmy Vasser won the 500-mile race in 2002 at then-California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) with an average speed of 197.995 mph.
The middle round of the Triple Crown series, which also includes the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., carried double points. Castroneves rose to tie teammate Will Power, who led 69 laps but incurred a drive-through penalty late in the race for blocking Castroneves, in the championship standings heading to Iowa Speedway for a July 12 race under the lights.
“Congrats to Montoya. Are you kidding me? This guy is unbelievable,” said Castroneves, who like Power is seeking his maiden series title. “Coming back after all those years and winning a race? As soon as they signed him I knew he would be an asset, and a headache, for us. It’s good (to have a) 1-2 finish – and we’re tied in the championship. It’s unbelievable.”
Power, who had to pit for fuel on Lap 189, finished 10th.
“That’s one thing about our team, Team Penske, there are no team orders. We race hard and we push for it,” Castroneves said of the blocking ruling by INDYCAR officials in Race Control. “Unfortunately, I’m not the one to make the calls. But I think we were really pushing hard and obviously fighting for the championship.”
Click it: Listen to Helio Castroneves and Carlos Munoz news conference
Montoya, who led 45 laps, inherited the lead for good on Lap 197 when Tony Kanaan, who led a field-high 78 laps, also had to pit for fuel. Kanaan, driving the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, led laps for the second race this season and for the 101st race in his Indy car career.
“There’s two ways to look at today really. First, we had a very strong Target car and I think that shows a lot about what this team and I are capable of when we get the setup right," Kanaan said. "Secondly, it’s obviously frustrating to dominate a race like that and not win. We just missed going to full 500-mile distance by a few laps and it heartbreaking when those things happen but that is racing as they say and we will focus on Iowa now and put it behind us.”
It was the 12th Indy car victory for Montoya, who gained one position to fourth in the championship. He’s 55 points behind his teammates. Simon Pagenaud, who finished sixth, replaced Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in third place in the standings. Hunter-Reay, whose No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport developed a front suspension issue early in the race, finished 18th after repairs.
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