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?”
Sep 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Red Bull gives you a unique insight into what goes on at a race team’s factory in the aftermath of a grand prix weekend.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
A wild final restart opened the door for Gaughan to out-hustle Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon late on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
More than a dozen former and current IndyCar drivers take part in the special event that honors the late two-time Indy 500 champ and raises money for Alzheimer’s research.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
With seven races left in the Nationwide schedule, can Smith start making up ground on teammate Chase Elliott in the championship?
Sep 20, 2014, 7:11 PM EDT
Ganassi Riley-Ford, 8Star Motorsports, Vipers win in COTA.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
When Wendy Venturini walks into the press box at New Hampshire Motor Speedway prior to Sunday’s Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup race, she will become part of NASCAR history.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:03 PM EDT
The Red Bull GRC championship tightens dramatically after the first race of the weekend in L.A.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Ty Dillon is bound and determined to give it his all to win the Nationwide Series championship this season. He took a big step Saturday afternoon by earning the pole for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 later that evening at Kentucky Speedway. Sam Hornish Jr. will start on the outside of the front row.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
CLICK HERE for stream links to the first of two GRC finals this weekend from Los Angeles.
Sep 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Custer holds off Darrell Wallace Jr. and Matt Crafton to win the Camping World Truck Series’ UNOH 175 at New Hampshire.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Ferrari and Red Bull could have – perhaps even should have – been in the mix for pole position. Mercedes was simply too good for them, once again, though.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Head-to-head, there’s very few Sprint Cup drivers that can beat Jimmie Johnson. But Tyler Clary can kick Johnson’s butt any time he wants to.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Friday recap from Red Bull GRC in LA is in the books.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
“We break our balls to make a good qualifying and you lose five-tenths every single straight line because the thing cuts” – tough talk from the Frenchman.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
For the first time all weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, someone else besides Brad Keselowski got to the top of the leaderboard.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Australian driver qualifies third for the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
The 16-year-old earns his second career Truck Series pole ahead of today’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
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