He’s baaaack: Juan Pablo Montoya has high hopes for NASCAR race at Michigan

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Juan Pablo Montoya racing in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan likely boils down to one of two things:

1) He has some unfinished business from his previous seven-year stint in NASCAR, or,

2) Old habits are hard to break.

Whatever the case, while Montoya has returned to a full-time open-wheel ride in IndyCar this season, he just can’t fully quit stock-car racing.

Especially when he thinks he has a chance to win in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Absolutely, our goal is to win the race,” Montoya said. “Michigan is a huge race for Roger (Penske) and for the manufacturers. It would be an honor for me to be able to do that for them.

“We tested the No.12 Ford several weeks ago at Nashville and it was really quick. I felt like I got up to speed in no time. That said, we realize that it’s going to be difficult. The Cup Series is always evolving so when you aren’t in the car every week you can get behind easily. But I have two teammates that are among the fastest drivers every race (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano), so I know the speed will be there to contend.”

Sunday will be the first of two Sprint Cup races Montoya will compete in this season, the other being the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis next month.

Montoya is enjoying the challenge of returning to IndyCar, currently seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, with three top-five finishes, including a season-best third-place showing last Saturday at Texas.

But don’t expect Montoya to make a full-time return to NASCAR anytime soon.

“For me it’s more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here,” Montoya said in a media session Friday at MIS. “This year we’ve got two really good shots. This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords.

“They always excel here and have a car that can win, and the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, and we hope it does, we might have a shot at winning this.”

Montoya was twice in contention to win the Brickyard but ultimately came up short each time. In the past, he’s called failing to win there as one of the most frustrating defeats that continues to gnaw at him to this day.

“Going to the Brickyard is a place that I run really well,” Montoya said. “When we ran bad we were always in the top 10, so going there in a car like this you’re definitely looking at a shot at a win as well.”

Montoya hasn’t exactly had the greatest history at Michigan – with just three top-10 finishes in 14 starts – but he feels confident that Team Penske equipment will make up for his past shortcomings there, as well as serve as a tune-up for Indy.

“To be honest with you, with the way Team Penske is running here it’s a hell of a chance,” said Montoya, who will start 28th in Sunday’s race. “You see Joey’s (Logano) comments sometimes and he says it was a terrible day and he finished fifth or sixth, so from my history here I would have killed to have a car that would do that.

“Our goal here, I think, is we’ll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way really look at it is it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard.

“The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning, so if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we’ll easily get a top 10 and if I’m really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win.

“I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is gonna play into my hands a little bit because it’s a really fast track. It’s a track you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in Indy Car.

“Roger gave me the opportunity to come here and we want to make SKF (race sponsor) and the Ford group proud of what we can do.”

Added crew chief Greg Erwin, “Juan Montoya is a world-class driver. Any crew chief would want to work with a driver with that kind of experience. … It’s going to be a fun weekend. Obviously we aren’t worrying about points, so we are able to lay it on the line.”

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IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”