Jul 10, 2014, 2:45 PM EST
Perhaps the overlooked aspect of Juan Pablo Montoya‘s win last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, his first upon his open-wheel return to the Verizon IndyCar Series, was how close it brought him into the championship picture.
He now sits fourth overall on 391 points, 55 back of Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who are tied with 446. His recent statistical surge has brought him to this point.
Montoya’s win in the double-points Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco netted him 102 points. Along with 82 for the Indianapolis 500, is the second highest scoring driver in the two double-points races this year with 184, only behind Castroneves, who has accumulated 198.
The crazy thing is, had Montoya’s Saturday qualifying speed at Indianapolis been fast enough to get him into Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout, he could have gained enough points to be leading the double-points points standings. He lost 16 points to Castroneves as a result of his qualifying 10th, while Castroneves made it onto Row 2 and was able to bank points on both Saturday and Sunday.
On ovals in total, the gap is just two points between Castroneves (222) and JPM (220). Montoya’s obviously had more time on ovals than the rest of the IndyCar field combined with his NASCAR experience. Still, just because he’s still turning left doesn’t mean that it’s a totally natural transition from handling the beast of a stock car to a lighter, more aerodynamic, more nimble but lesser horsepower IndyCar.
Montoya has two remaining elements to conquer in his final seven races if he’s going to parlay this comeback into a potential surprise championship.
For one, he’s yet to drive a short oval, and with Iowa and Milwaukee still to go, it’s his last re-learning curve to master. Yet the way the points extrapolate, he can afford to have off weekends on one or either of those weekends because it’s not a double-points weekend (like Indianapolis, Pocono or Fontana) or a doubleheader weekend (Toronto still to go). With just standard points, a bad weekend is somewhat negated.
The other thing he has to improve, perhaps more crucially, is his road and street course qualifying. Montoya has yet to start better than sixth on a road or street course this year.
His starts thus far? 18, 16, 8, 8, 6, 15, 11, 14.
He’s turned those starts into these results: 15, 4, 21, 16, 12, 13, 2, 7. So in five of eight, he’s ended higher than he’s started.
Granted, Montoya now is in a much more comfortable place with Firestone’s red, alternate tires – and those who remember his propensity to lay down balls-to-the-wall fliers in CART qualifying in 1999 and 2000 will no doubt look forward to Montoya doing likewise once he gets a better grip (no pun intended).
That’s left him too much work to do on race days, and although he’s made the most of it – particularly at Houston two weeks ago – he’s not yet back to being ranked among the top five road and street course drivers in the series.
Again, the key is not yet. He has the equipment, he has the momentum, and most importantly, he has the least amount of pressure compared to teammates Castroneves and Power, whose careers have been overshadowed by that one element missing from their resumes: a series championship.
To close the 55-point gap, all Montoya needs is one or two more race wins and for a couple of slip-ups from his teammates. He’s already more than halved the gap since the Indianapolis 500, when Montoya sat 122 points behind then-series leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, and 82 behind Power.
Montoya has wins at Mid-Ohio (1999) and Milwaukee (2000) on his scorecard, and he’s also won at Sonoma in NASCAR (2007). So he’s coming to some tracks where he has had past success.
JPM can steal the title if he makes those couple improvements and closes this points. He may also have the mental edge to where he could leave his teammates asking come Fontana the last weekend of August, “how did we let this happen… again?”
Jan 25, 2015, 6:27 AM EST
Sunday has dawned at the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:10 AM EST
An early mistake from Ken Roczen shuffled him to the back of the field and resulted in him giving up the points lead.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:55 AM EST
Cooper Webb retained the points lead in the 250 Class but had some pointed words for Tyler Bowers after the race.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
The 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona is now underway.
Jan 24, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
UPDATED: A pair of disqualifications involving two of Abreu’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East teammates elevate the Chili Bowl champion to a 13th place finish.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:06 PM EST
Coon will work on MRN Radio’s live qualifying and race broadcasts in 2015.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:23 PM EST
Since resigning from Ferrari last fall, Montezemolo has taken over as CEO of an Italian airline and joined the board of directors for F1’s controlling shareholder.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Vets-Help hopes to not only host disabled veterans’ races at the track, but also build a residential complex and rehab center for vets and soldiers returning from war.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:37 PM EST
Former team competition director alleges that KBM owes him bonus money and commissions from a pair of sponsorships he says he helped get for the team.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
The reigning World Champ and aspiring R&B singer aligns with London PR firm that’s home to some of the world’s most popular musicians.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray loves everything about racing sports cars, especially in this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, except for one thing — the noise.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Against the odds, the key storyline heading into today’s Rolex 24 at Daytona is a P2 convert going up against DP teams for the overall win.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:16 PM EST
At 707 horsepower, the last thing anyone would likely think is that a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat would lose a drag race to … an all-electric Tesla. But it’s true, sadly for Mopar fans.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
The NASCAR team owner talks about his initial reaction to Gordon’s retirement decision, Gordon’s impact on the sport, and what his team’s plans are for after 2015.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:13 PM EST
On Friday, the NASCAR America crew discussed potential candidates to inherit the No. 24 car with 2015 being Jeff Gordon’s final season. One interesting name came up, that of Kyle Larson.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:34 PM EST
Victory Motorcycles will compete for the first time in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2015, with husband and wife team Matt and Angie Smith heading up the effort.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:22 PM EST
Rex White, to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday, wasn’t just a great driver, he’s also a great storyteller. We share some of his best tales with MST readers.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:48 PM EST
Gordon has left the door open to competing in other series when his full-time Sprint Cup career ends this fall.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
The four-time Sprint Cup champion isn’t the only NASCAR driver that’s gotten rich in the last two decades or so.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA, 5 p.m. ET – More on Jeff Gordon’s decision; interviews with Hendrick, Hornish
Jan 23, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Also coming up today: Breaking down offseason moves from Petty, Stewart-Haas teams; looking back on an ‘Awesome’ 1985 Daytona 500; the Top-5 moments from the 2014 Chase.
Video from NASCAR America
- Rex White, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver — and storyteller 1
- Is a NASCAR TV analyst career in Jeff Gordon’s future? ‘I’d entertain it’ 2
- After wedding and winter to reflect, Joey Logano looks for more in 2015 2
- Jeff Gordon’s legacy of success transcends generations 1
- Jeff Gordon announces 2015 as final full-time season 43
- NASCAR: Trackside shopping set to change as part of new Fanatics deal (UPDATED) 10
- Brian Vickers to return to racing at Las Vegas after health scare 9