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?”
Apr 20, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The joys of return flights home from the West Coast for the IndyCar community..
Apr 20, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Another tough day at office for Honda, Newgarden comes up short of top-five and other tidbits from Long Beach.
Apr 20, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Sebastian Saavedra has a clean, quiet, consistent weekend and ended P10 on debut for Ganassi.
Apr 20, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
It was a bizarre weekend for Dale Coyne’s No. 18, which saw one driver replaced before the weekend began, one injured before getting the chance to debut, and one finally getting a long overdue shot.
Apr 20, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
Long Beach got off to a great start, courtesy of Patrick Stewart’s enthusiastic command to start engines.
Apr 20, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
It may have been a routine victory for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, but both Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen showed some of the fight that has been lacking in recent months.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Ferrari team principal believes two mistakes from the four-time world champion cost him a place on the podium in Bahrain.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
A mistake by Sebastian Vettel allows Bottas to take fourth place on Sunday in Bahrain.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:53 PM EDT
JPM, Helio laugh about the four nationalities represented at Team Penske.
Apr 19, 2015, 7:41 PM EDT
Bobby Unser praises Scott Dixon, while Dixon himself downplays the accomplishment.
Apr 19, 2015, 6:18 PM EDT
Scott Dixon finally wins in Long Beach.
Apr 19, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
The nine-time world champion extends his lead at the top of the riders’ championship in MotoGP.
Apr 19, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Dixon leads halfway at Long Beach.
Apr 19, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Romain Grosjean manages to salvage some points for Lotus in Bahrain, finishing seventh.
Apr 19, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Ed Jones survives streets of Long Beach to win Round 3 for Indy Lights.
Apr 19, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Ricciardo finishes the race in a blaze of glory, but holds on to sixth place for Red Bull.
Apr 19, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Watch the third round of the IndyCar season, from the streets of Long Beach, at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Apr 19, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
German driver was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop towards the end of the race in Bahrain after running over the kerbs at the final corner.
Apr 19, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Watch the third round of the Indy Lights season today at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
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- Scott Dixon breaks through for elusive Long Beach win 2
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- Hamilton puts on a show under the lights to win Bahrain GP 6
- Off The Grid: Melbourne premieres 1:30pm ET on NBCSN (VIDEO) 0
- Castroneves secures pole in IndyCar qualifying at Long Beach 1
- Hamilton eases to fourth straight pole position in Bahrain 0