Jul 10, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
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?”
Jul 25, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
The former Sprint Cup champion steps behind the counter and serves up cold ones…Of truth.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
The four-time Brickyard 400 champion says he had to go against his “natural tendencies” as a driver in order to become as successful as he has been at Indy.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
All of the latest news and analysis from the paddock at the Hungaroring.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Red Bull leading the race for the podium in Hungary, but Ricciardo still has some concerns.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 pm ET — Hornish on nuances of Indy, JJ and Bowyer, Indiana racing history
Jul 25, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Leigh Diffey will again be joined in-studio by 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2014 Nationwide Series Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
P1 and P2 in both practice sessions, but not 100% where they want to be.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
Defending Brickyard 400 winner would push for mid-week races if he were in charge of creating the Sprint Cup schedule.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Brembo and Mercedes release a joint statement concerning the incident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Nationwide Series rookie continues to show strong pace ahead of Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT
Four-time Brickyard champ: “From an overall strength of the team and speed of the cars, this is by far the best chance we’ve had of winning in a long time.”
Jul 25, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Alonso to McLaren? Vettel to Mercedes? Hamilton to who-knows-where? Silly season is beginning to churn out some cracking stories already in F1.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Baku set to host a street race from 2016.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT
The Sprint Cup regular topped out with a lap of 181.043 mph on his 12th and final lap of the session.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Mercedes driver confirms that talks about a new deal have not yet begun, but suggests that it is merely a formality.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT
The Briton continues to dominate at the Hungaroring with his teammate in tow.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
News and interviews from around the F1 paddock ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – it’s the latest edition of the NBC Sports Original Digital Series “Paddock Pass.”
Jul 25, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
Can Hamilton double up in FP2 at the Hungaroring?