Juan Pablo Montoya arrived in Fort Worth like, well, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner.
Texas Motor Speedway rolled out the red carpet, leading Montoya through the stockyards with a herd of longhorns and then into famed Joe T. Garcia’s flanked by a mariachi band where a standing ovation from racing fans awaited.
It marked the latest event for the Indy 500 winner, who hasn’t had much free time since winning the prestigious open-wheel race for the second time. Heck, he had the honors of ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange earlier in the day before flying to Texas.
“In a way it’s really cool and in a way it’s hell,” said Montoya, grinning as he answered how his days have been like since his win Sunday.
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“But it’s cool. I don’t mind helping IndyCar and helping Verizon promote the series. I think the race was pretty cool.”
Montoya held interviews with local reporters, rehashing his win and what it meant for his career. Then he participated in a Q&A session with fans, keeping an eye on TMS’ Firestone 600 trophy that is up for grabs June 6.
“You got my trophy for two weeks from now?” Montoya said, smiling. “I really like this one.”
The crowd on hand sure wouldn’t mind seeing Montoya leave Texas with it in a couple of weeks. They showed their appreciation by joining track president Eddie Gossage and three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford by toasting milk in honor of Montoya’s Indy 500 win.
Among the questions from the crowd:
What’s the fastest Montoya has driven in a street car? 198 mph.
Of all the teammates he’s had in his career, who is his favorite? Helio Castroneves.
What’s the fastest street legal car Montoya has owned? A Nissan GT-R.
The best story, though, might have been the one Montoya told about his son going to school earlier this week. To set it up, Montoya informed the audience that his team owner, Roger Penske, had offered to buy the Indy 500 winner’s wife a Bentley, assuming it was one of his drivers.
So when Montoya’s son went back to school this week, the teacher asked how the race was.
Montoya’s son failed to mention his dad winning the race, instead opting to let the teacher know: “My mom got a Bentley!”
That story drew plenty of laughs from the crowd.
Montoya, of course, is in a good place in his racing career. At 39, he’s found a renewed passion since returning last year to IndyCar after seven mediocre seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The Indy 500 win is Montoya’s second, coming 15 years after winning his first in 2000, and it was his second win this season, along with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Seeing Montoya back among racing’s elite isn’t a surprise to many within the sport.
As 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. He’s a world-class talent.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760