Skip to content

IndyCar: Montoya a legitimate title contender heading into final seven races

Jul 10, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT

JPMChp Getty Images

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?”

Latest Posts
  1. Jamin (USF2000), Cooper (PWC GTS) win first two races of weekend at Mid-Ohio

    Jul 31, 2015, 6:39 PM EDT

    Photo: Tony DiZinno Photo: Tony DiZinno

    Jamin, Cooper emerge victorious to kick off the weekend at Mid-Ohio.

  2. Nasr: Sauber must remain patient for updates

    Jul 31, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Getty Images

    Nasr calls on the team to make it through a rough patch ahead of the next raft of updates in Belgium.

  3. Dixon fastest on Friday at Mid-Ohio

    Jul 31, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    The Mid-Ohio dominator tops Friday practice in 2015.

  4. Verstappen joins sim racing team to complement F1 duties

    Jul 31, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso and The Netherlands during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Verstappen joins Team Redline’s sim racing roster in a bid to keep sharp when not on the track.

  5. Friday Mid-Ohio news and notes: Walker fallout, Honda update, an extra Sonoma car?

    Jul 31, 2015, 2:57 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Some news and notes from the paddock at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

  6. Formula E team names revealed for season two; Trulli yet to confirm line-up

    Jul 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Nextev TCRs German driver Nelson Piquet JR (C) drives during the final race of the 2015 FIA Formula E London ePrix championship at Battersea Park in London, England, on June 28, 2015. AFP PHOTO / IAN KINGTON        (Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    We round up all of the latest news and developments in Formula E ahead of pre-season testing next month.

  7. Hakkinen: Vettel a danger to Mercedes in title fight

    Jul 31, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Getty Images

    With victory in Hungary, Vettel closed the gap at the top to 42 points – but can he catch Lewis Hamilton and challenge for a fifth world title?

  8. Bourdais quickest in opening practice at Mid-Ohio

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    First blood to Bourdais in practice at Mid-Ohio ahead of Power and Newgarden.

  9. Hinchcliffe undergoes final surgery, now “can’t wait to be strapping back in”

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hinchcliffe’s recovery continues following his accident in practice for the Indy 500 back in May.

  10. Gutierrez working hard to get back on F1 grid in 2016 as Haas speculation continues

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Ferrari looks on in the garage during a team filming day at Circuit de Catalunya on February 24, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Gutierrez claims his work in a reserve role at Ferrari is helping to open up some new opportunities for 2016.

  11. With 2016 plans undetermined, Newgarden focused on finishing 2015 strong

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:42 AM EDT

    NewgyTORwin Getty Images

    Josef Newgarden’s future will become a talking point at some stage, but it appears it will be after the season.

  12. Tickets for German GP at Hockenheim to go on sale

    Jul 30, 2015, 5:11 PM EDT

    Mercedes-AMG's German driver and race winner Nico Rosberg (C) celebrates next to second placed Williams' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas (L) and Mercedes-AMG's British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) after the German Formula One Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring racing circuit in Hockenheim, southern Germany, on July 20, 2014.     AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE        (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Discounted tickets set to go on sale this Friday in a bid to improve attendance figures.

  13. Exploring what’s next for Derrick Walker as he announces he’s leaving IndyCar

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:48 PM EDT

    Photo: © INDYCAR Photo: © INDYCAR

    Derrick Walker on the prowl for whatever’s next in his long racing career.

  14. Power refusing to give up in IndyCar title defense

    Jul 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Despite running fifth in the standings with three races to go, Power hasn’t given up on retaining the no. 1 for 2016.

  15. Drivers unfazed by longer F1 calendar in 2016

    Jul 30, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT

    xxxx during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Getty Images

    The 2016 F1 season is set to swell to a record 21 races.

  16. Ericsson pleased with first ten races at Sauber, but regrets missed opportunities

    Jul 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 drives ahead of Felipe Nasr of Brazil and Sauber F1 during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ericsson reflects on his first half-season with Sauber that has brought his first points in F1, but also presented some missed opportunities.

  17. MRTI: Seven races on tap for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 in critical weekend

    Jul 30, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    MazdaRoadToIndy

    With seven races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, it’s an important one for the entire Mazda Road to Indy.