Juan Pablo Montoya

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Not that it was unexpected, but Juan Pablo Montoya’s 16-place advancement through the field at Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was a performance to behold.

Montoya qualified dead last in the 21-car field Saturday, the lowest starting position in his 79-race Indy car career. The 1999 Indy car champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said he couldn’t achieve the optimal performance from the Firestone alternate tires and failed to advance past the first segment of knockout qualifying.

“I knew we had a good car, it’s just in qualifying the tires never came in,” the driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske said. “It’s hard with this deal (knockout qualifying). You get one run and if it doesn’t work, then you’re out of it.”

“It was just a tough break but the guys worked really hard, made some good changes and the car had a ton of speed (in the race).”

It showed immediately in the 90-lap race at Barber Motorsports Park. The 40-year-old Colombian dodged havoc in front of him to pick up nine spots in the first two laps, then steadily picked off a position at a time.

By the halfway point, he was sixth, then passed James Hinchcliffe for fifth on Lap 62. From there, it was a matter of holding off Hinchcliffe’s advances in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to secure a satisfying fifth-place finish that kept him third in the championship after four races.

“This place, I’m telling you, I had a lot of fun,” Montoya said. “We passed a lot of people. It was crazy all green out there again, but I think we put on a hell of a show for everybody. Tons of passing, a lot of aggression, I like that.”

Dixon rebounds after early shunt

Scott DixonIt won’t show up in the box score, but Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon made his own impressive drive through the field Sunday.

The four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion started fourth but was spun around from contact with Sebastien Bourdais on the third lap and dropped to 20th place. As usual, the “Iceman” remained cool and soldiered the No. 9 Coca-Cola Chevrolet back to 10th by the finish, though it did end Dixon’s streak of finishing on the podium in all the previous Barber Motorsports Park races.

“I was really looking forward to (the race) with the Coke car here at Barber and continuing our streak of podiums,” Dixon said. “I guess a few cars had contact at the start so we were delayed a few times getting under green.

“It seemed like it was really over before it started for us today. I got turned in Turn 5, I think, and we just lost all the track position that we thought we’d have for the race after qualifying. There’s not much more to it than that, unfortunately. On to the Indy Grand Prix.”

Ganassi cars finished eighth, ninth and 10th in the race, with Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Dixon, respectively.