98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race - Practice

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.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.