In completing his best finish in the IndyCar Series in decades, Juan Pablo Montoya reclaimed the competitive stride that some in the opposition over the years have derided as a strut.
The former Indianapolis 500 champion also showed he retains the brashness of his younger years, accusing Penske teammate Will Power of jumping the restart to edge him out for second place at the Firestone 600 on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Montoya, who recovered from a flat tire early, was running strong in second behind eventual winner Ed Carpenter and Power was a distant sixth when Takuma Sato’s blown engine led to a restart with three laps to go.
Montoya finished third, one spot behind Power.
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“I want to talk to IndyCar and clarify why the cones are there if you don’t have to use them,” Montoya said while sitting next to Power in the TMS interview room.
“I understand if you want to go a little early, but 200 or 300 yards before the cones and he was already going. I’m disappointed he got away with that.”
Power, the series points leader entering the race, gave an “I don’t know” when asked about the controversy before Montoya arrived for media questions. Power appeared poised to take the criticism, until it became obvious that Montoya had no intention of stopping the jabs.
Power: “In IndyCar you have to be ready, man.”
Montoya: “Ready to cheat?
Power: “I never even saw the restart. I didn’t know. I couldn’t see the cones. I didn’t know where they were.”
Montoya: “There’s a sign … 10 feet off the ground. I don’t know. … If you jump the start, the rules are the rules. I think there should be a clear -cut penalty if you jump the cones. If the guy knows he’s going to get a five-second penalty for jumping the start of the race, he wouldn’t jump it. But he jumped because he knows they were not going to wave it off …”
The exchange resembled the way the Montoya once raced on this circuit before leaving for Formula One and then NASCAR’s Sprint Cup: Aggressive and bold.
He rubbed some the wrong way, all the while becoming one of the top young drivers, regardless of series or classification. He was the the only driver to have won CART season title, the Indianapolis 500, all at age 24, and the 24 Hours of Daytona in his first attempt.
Saturday marked his first race at TMS under the IndyCar banner. In 14 races in Sprint Cup, Montoya’s best finish was seventh, in 2009.
He recovered from a flat tire early and benefited from an earlier restart.
Montoya also appeared to have patched up any hurt feelings with Power.
“I had a great time in NASCAR,” Montoya said. “I learned a lot. Too many up-and-downs with those cars. But when the cars were right, I had a great time.
“The opportunity to run with Team Penske was a dream come true for anybody. And to have Will Power as a teammate … .”
Power: “And to have Montoya, my hero [as a youngster], as a teammate is also a dream come true.”
Montoya: “Oh, my God, we’re going to hug.”
And they did before Montoya continued.
“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time … even if someone jumped the start.”