Jul 6, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT
The comeback is complete.
After racing in Formula One from 2001-2006 and NASCAR from 2007-2013, former Indy 500 and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya returned to IndyCar racing this season.
His peers believed that it would only be a matter of time before Montoya recaptured his old magic, and sure enough, the Colombian has done just that by winning today’s Pocono IndyCar 500 at Pocono Raceway – his first IndyCar victory in 14 years (Sept. 17, 2000, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill.).
Among the first things Montoya did in Victory Lane was thank team owner Roger Penske for giving him the opportunity to compete again in IndyCar.
“I want to thank Roger for believing in me – after how many years out of open wheel, to come back, he believed I could do it,” Montoya told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “And here we are. It’s awesome.”
After the first 158 laps ran under green (a new Verizon IndyCar Series record for a 500-mile race), Graham Rahal spun and made contact with the Turn 2 wall to bring out the first yellow of the day. Then on the restart at Lap 166, Montoya battled Team Penske teammate Will Power for the lead.
One lap later, the encounter led to a broken front wing endplate for Montoya. But he was able to get past Power with no visible decline in performance from his No. 2 PPG Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.
“Just a little more understeer,” Montoya said of how his car reacted after the incident. “I had to do it. It was one of those moves – I mean, you either do it or you don’t do it. That was the winning move, so I had to do it.”
Montoya gave up P1 in order to pit with 14 laps left, but when Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan couldn’t make their fuel strategies work in the final 10 laps – both pitted together on Lap 161 and did so again just before the restart to top off – Montoya returned to the front with four laps to go.
It was academic from there as Montoya went on to beat Penske teammate Helio Castroneves by 2.3 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz claimed the final spot on the podium, while Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, both of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished fourth and fifth respectively.
As for Power, he once again ran afoul of Race Control on Lap 172 when he battled Castroneves down the front-stretch for position. Power appeared to block the Brazilian, and with 25 laps to go, Race Control black-flagged him and forced him to the pits for a drive-through penalty.
He ultimately finished 10th, enabling Castroneves to pull even with him atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. Prior to today’s race, Power had led Castroneves by 39 points.
“I don’t know what to say – another penalty, another drive-through, another really good opportunity lost,” said Power, who has been called multiple times for various on-track violations this year.
Castroneves effectively put his hands up when asked about Power’s penalty.
“Unfortunately, I’m not the one that makes the calls,” he said. “But I think we’re really pushing hard. We’re fighting for the championship. In the end, it’s not my call.”
He was more effusive, however, about Montoya’s victory.
“That guy is unbelievable – coming back after  years and winning a race,” he continued. “He did a great job. As soon as he signed [with Team Penske], I knew he would be an asset – and a headache – for us.”
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – POCONO INDYCAR 500
Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed, reason out (if any):
1. (1) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
2. (7) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
3. (3) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
4. (10) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
5. (15) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
6. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
7. (12) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 200, Running
9. (5) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
10. (2) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
11. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
12. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, -1 lap
13. (13) Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 199, -1 lap
14. (16) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, -1 lap
15. (19) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, -1 lap
16. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, -1 lap
17. (17) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, -two laps
18. (9) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 181, Running
19. (14) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, Lap 157, Contact
20. (20) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, Lap 89, Electrical
21. (4) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, Lap 25, Electrical
22. (22) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 0, Did Not Start
Winners average speed: 202.402 mph
Time of Race: Two hours, 28 minutes, 13.1798 seconds
Margin of victory: 2.3403 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 6 laps
Lead changes: 16 among 5 drivers
Power 1 – 30
Montoya 31 – 32
Power 33 – 49
Kanaan 50 -58
Power 59 – 61
Montoya 62 – 64
Kanaan 65 – 87
Montoya 88 -94
Kanaan 95 – 117
Montoya 118 – 125
Kanaan 127 – 147
Power 148 – 166
Montoya 167 – 187
Newgarden 188 – 194
Kanaan 195 – 196
Montoya 197 – 200
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