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?”
Aug 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Finnish driver admits Williams expected to be further ahead than it is.
Aug 28, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Benoit Treluyer shoots to the top of the timesheets late on in FP2.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Hamilton wrapped up the second annual FIA Pole Trophy last weekend in Belgium.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Mallya expresses his delight in Force India’s form despite having a smaller workforce and budget than many of its rivals.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Montoya, Rahal the two likely contenders to claim Power’s crown, as IndyCar looks for solace and a great race to end the season and ease the pain after the loss of Justin Wilson.
Aug 28, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT
First blood to Audi as its battle with Porsche is rekindled on home soil.
Aug 27, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Oriol Servia will race in what was Justin Wilson’s car this weekend at Sonoma.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT
IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge in a motorcade, for pre-title buildup and to pay tribute to Justin Wilson.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Aleshin returns to IndyCar this weekend after a year away.
Aug 27, 2015, 3:14 PM EDT
All cars to carry special tribute logos, decals for Justin Wilson this weekend, with Wilson’s old team also paying tribute.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Rahal out to claim his third win of the season at Sonoma, believing it will be the only way to beat Juan Pablo Montoya to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series title.
Aug 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Max Chilton has two years of F1 experience under his belt, but believes Ferrari will have a big say in who Haas hires for 2016.
Aug 27, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Vettel defends Ferrari’s decision to try a one-stop strategy at Spa after suffering a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Fast facts heading into this weekend’s season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, courtesy of IndyCar PR staff.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Victory at Spa gives Rossi momentum heading into the final four rounds of the 2015 season, and potentially in the race for a seat with Haas F1 Team next season.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:36 AM EDT
Off the back of winning Le Mans, Porsche confirms it will stay in the FIA World Endurance Championship for at least another three years.
Aug 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Just in time for the biggest race in drag racing, next weekend’s (Sept. 2-7) NHRA U.S. Nationals, Erica Enders is back where she wants to be: leading the NHRA Pro Stock point standings.
Aug 26, 2015, 6:06 PM EDT
Double the amount of base points, in addition to bonus points, could have a major impact on who emerges as the 2015 IndyCar Series champion Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EDT
This past Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway proved to be a very costly proposition for numerous teams.
- Preview: IndyCar will race to honor Wilson, and to close its season, at Sonoma 1
- Andretti to field No. 25 car at Sonoma; Oriol Servia to drive Wilson tribute car 3
- IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge; pay tribute to Justin Wilson (PHOTOS, VIDEO) 4
- Fast Facts: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 6
- NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals 3
- IndyCar flashback: Justin Wilson finishes second, Will Power/Scott Dixon controversy at Sonoma 2013 (video) 3
- Report: FIA to conduct closed cockpit tests next month 15