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?”
F1 Strategy Group pushing through technical revolution for 2017, other changes planned as early as Belgian GP
Jul 2, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
F1 Strategy Group met with the FIA and Formula One Management in England on Wednesday to discuss future changes to the sport.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Red, white and blue in time for the British Grand Prix weekend.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
The MST team makes its predictions ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT
What if The Rolling Stones’ concert set list at IMS was specifically inspired by recent IndyCar events? We ponder the possibilities.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:44 AM EDT
A Power outage, JPM and Marco’s quiet rolls, and other IndyCar nuggets of note leaving Fontana.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Four driver changes ahead of this weekend’s round at Silverstone.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Can Lewis Hamilton make it a homecoming to remember by scoring his third British Grand Prix victory at Silverstone?
Jul 1, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Mark Miles discussed Fontana, Milwaukee, Road America and more.
Jul 1, 2015, 5:53 PM EDT
The CEO of IndyCar discussed the challenges of putting together an extended series schedule.
Jul 1, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
TV times across the board for this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
Could penalties be coming to drivers who speak out about IndyCar’s on-track product? Mark Miles flips some pancakes on the possibility.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
Will Power fined, put on probation after shoving safety official during Saturday’s race.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:42 PM EDT
In a surprise move, the NHRA announced Wednesday that president Tom Compton has retired after 15 years as the sanctioning body’s chief executive officer
Jul 1, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
The provisional winner of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is Rhys Millen.
Jul 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
The CFH Racing co-owner says IndyCar will never grow if “we’re tearing it apart from the inside out.”
Jul 1, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
One of A.J. Foyt’s young drivers makes some wiser points beyond his years about Saturday’s race in Fontana.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Sauber names a new technical director.
Jun 30, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
Feature on Manpower to Horsepower to air during Red Bull GRC show this Sunday on NBC.
Jun 30, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT
A selection of images from the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
- F1 Strategy Group pushing through technical revolution for 2017, other changes planned as early as Belgian GP 0
- 2015 British Grand Prix Preview 1
- Here are your British Grand Prix air times on CNBC, NBCSN, Live Extra 0
- Miles: After “two-sided pancake” Fontana race, IndyCar may crack down against stakeholder comments 10
- IndyCar issues penalties and fines following MAVTV 500 at Fontana 4
- NHRA shakeup: Tom Compton retires as president, Peter Clifford named successor 6
- Ed Carpenter: driver criticism of IndyCar ‘confusing for fans’ 18