Juan Pablo Montoya has no regrets over how his racing career has unfolded.
He experienced great success in open-wheel racing, winning the 1999 CART title, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and then moving to Formula One, where he won seven races and had 30 podiums.
That success led Montoya to try his hand in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series in 2007, but the results didn’t follow suit. In seven years, he had two wins, nine poles and made the Chase only once.
Not exactly a stellar résumé, forcing Montoya’s return to IndyCar a year ago. Wanting to drive for a competitive team, he signed with Team Penske and has regained his form. The latest example came with his second Indianapolis 500 victory on May 24, along with his season-opening win in St. Petersburg.
Now Montoya is eying another win at Saturday’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’ve got the love of racing back,” Montoya said during a recent trip to Fort Worth. “When you go into a race thinking, ‘If we do extremely well, we’re going to be 15th today,’ that’s just not racing.”
Montoya is clearly taking a shot at his former NASCAR Sprint Cup team, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, which has since become Ganassi Racing. But Montoya can back up his stance with what he accomplished with the team.
Montoya is the last driver for that team to win a race, in 2010 at Watkins Glen, and also the last to make the Chase, in 2009.
All of that led Montoya to scoff at the notion he should have stayed in the open-wheel circuits for his entire career.
“In hindsight, if you look at it with what I had, I did really well,” Montoya said. “I left and have they won races since I left?”
Told “No,” Montoya smirked and said, “OK. Just wanted to make sure.
“We had a tough seven years in NASCAR. We had some success, but it was very inconsistent. To come back to IndyCar at this point and do what I’m doing right now, it’s pretty cool.”
Instead of the uphill battle he faced every race in NASCAR going against the likes of Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing, Montoya now finds himself on the power team.
Along with Montoya, the team has three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, reigning series champion Will Power and the underrated Simon Pagenaud.
“Having that core of drivers helps all of us and pushes all of us,” Montoya said.
Montoya showed that much in charging to the front of the pack in the Indy 500 and passing Power, his teammate, with three laps remaining and holding the lead to the end.
It became one of the more thrilling Indy 500 races in recent memory, and gave Montoya victories at the prestigious event 15 years apart. Pretty good stuff, as three-time Indy 500 champ and Fort Worth resident Johnny Rutherford said.
“Juan Pablo has run three Indy 500s and has won two of them? Pretty good stuff,” Rutherford said. “He did a tremendous job holding his position the final laps and using a little strategy against Will Power, pulling a few stunts on him and taking advantage of it. That’s what it’s all about.”
Montoya didn’t need much time to re-establish himself as an elite driver in the series and should be viewed as one of the favorites coming to Texas. He had no top-five runs in 14 Cup starts at TMS but finished third in his lone IndyCar race here last year.
Montoya likes how his team has improved its performances at each individual track from last season, adding that he feels strong at big ovals like Texas’ 1.5-mile.
Nobody, of course, would be surprised if he visits TMS’ Victory Lane for the first time Saturday night.
“He’s a world-class talent,” TMS president Eddie Gossage said. “I never doubted he would succeed in IndyCar again. It just took him a little bit of time to get the feel back.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indiana
7:30 p.m. June 6, Texas Motor Speedway