Juan Pablo Montoya said before the latest iteration of his racing career that he wanted to be in a position to win, and joining Team Penske for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season has provided that opportunity.
The complementary motivation is from within the 38-year-old from Colombia, who last competed in Indy car racing in 2000.
“I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve won in everything I’ve driven,” said Montoya, who competed in Formula One and the NASCAR Cup Series in the intervening years. “If you’re not in a winning car, there’s no point. At this point in my career, I cannot waste my time."
Montoya has been a quick study of the Dallara chassis-Chevrolet engine package and the Verizon IndyCar Series’ diverse racetrack schedule and depth of competition. He placed fourth in the second event of the season at Long Beach, finished fifth in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and recorded back-to-back podium finishes at Texas Motor Speedway and Race 1 at Houston in June.
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On July 6 at Pocono Raceway, he cashed in on the biggest opportunity presented so far with a victory in the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco. It was his third win in a 500-mile Indy car race and his first victory since September 2000 in the Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway.
Montoya is the eighth different winner through 11 rounds this season and the first to win from the pole. The 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, slowed by a lone caution for six laps, was the fastest (202.402 mph) for a 500-mile race in Indy car history. The NASCAR Cup Series track-record is 145.384 mph set by Jeff Gordon in the 2011 Pocono 500.
Montoya was quick to congratulate the crew of the No. 2 PPG entry, and especially cited the opportunity presented by Penske.
“I want thank Roger for believing in me after how many years out of open-wheel, coming back and believing I could do it,” he said. “I think Roger is the man. It's unbelievable everything he does. He’s an example to anybody, and for me I'm not saying this because I run for him -- I knew Roger a little bit, but now that I work with him, it's unbelievable. The way he does things, you're not surprised why you're kicking everybody's (butts).”
Thirty years earlier at Pocono Raceway, Penske strode to Victory Lane to congratulate reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears for a hard-fought runner-up finish by .27 of a second to Shierson Racing’s Danny Sullivan in the Domino’s Pizza 500.
Penske also won the inaugural Indy car race at Pocono in 1971 with Mark Donohue behind the wheel.
The victory in the middle round of the Triple Crown series that offers double points moved Montoya to fourth in the championship standings. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who was the runner-up at Pocono, are tied for the lead.
Recent results have further incentivized Montoya, who is 55 points behind heading to the July 12 race under the lights at Iowa Speedway.
“I think Roger deserves the (series) championship. The last three or four years they were close in the championship but just couldn’t close it,” he said. “If the biggest problem we have at the end of the year is who is going to win the championship, it’s a good problem to have.”
The 1984 victory at Pocono – the final round of the Triple Crown -- was the first on an oval and second in Indy cars for Sullivan, who competed in Formula One the previous year. Sullivan joined Team Penske for the 1985 season and won the Indianapolis 500.
He set the then-Indy car record for fastest average speed in a 500-mile race (170.720 mph) in 1989 at Pocono Raceway. The record was broken by Jimmy Vasser (197.995 mph) at the 2-mile California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in 2002.