Juan Pablo Montoya looking forward to Indy 500 return

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In 2000, Juan Pablo Montoya put on one of the more dominant performances in Indianapolis 500 history, leading 167 of 200 laps en route to victory in his first – and only – run in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

But ask the sometimes brusque Colombian to reminisce about that time, and he’ll only show you that moving forward is his top priority.

“I don’t even think about that I won it, I don’t even look at it like that,” he said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Why? [Because] you gotta focus on what you’ve gotta do today.

“I’m looking at videos of the race, of how people passed, of how people didn’t pass – what worked, what didn’t – and that’s it.”

The past is clearly the past with Montoya, who moved on to Formula One and then the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series before returning to IndyCar racing over the most recent off-season with Team Penske.

Montoya has not only had to mentally re-train himself to drive an open-wheel machine, but also train harder physically. So far, his work has yielded mixed results this Verizon IndyCar Series season. He finished fourth at Long Beach in a fine drive, but has finished 15th or worse in the other three races.

You figure that with more acclimation, more consistent results will follow down the road. Along with that, he’ll be likely to have understood just how far he can push this particular IndyCar, the Dallara DW12, to do what he wants.

“To get to the limit in NASCAR is a lot easier and then it becomes how well the car drives,” he said. “Here [in IndyCar], the limit is a lot further and knowing where the limit is, that’s a lot harder.

“You can push, you can push, you can push, and then you put two tires on and you gotta push again, and you gotta find more, find more, find more. That’s where experience pays off…

“…It’s hard to know where the limit is. You really don’t want to find out. Most of the time, when you find out, it’s already too late.”

And if there’s one place where you don’t want to go over that limit, it’s Indianapolis.

Montoya isn’t sure what to expect in Sunday’s 98th Running, where he’ll start on the inside of Row 4. As the fastest second-day qualifier last weekend, it would appear he has the pace to contend.

But in his mind, so do a lot of others; he figures that, including his own No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, there were “probably 10 to 15 cars” that are legit contenders for the Borg-Warner Trophy.

It will take a perfect performance from all parties – driver, equipment, strategist, the pit crew – to win the day at Indy. And Montoya knows that as good as anyone.

“I think we’ve got to go out there and see how the car behaves,” he said. “You have to work on it through the day, and make sure you have a good balance, and make all the right calls, and minimize the mistakes.

“It always is [a process]. Like every race, it has its things you’ve gotta be careful with and things you can abuse and that’s it.”

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.