Outside of having four tires, there’s not much similarity between a stock car and an IndyCar. Among the many differences between them is how to drive them.
After seven years of driving NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, Juan Pablo Montoya needed to physically and mentally change in order to make the switch back to IndyCar racing, where he won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and that year’s CART title before going to Formula One for what would be a six-year run over there.
From sweating in the gym to re-learning his open-wheel rhythm in the cockpit, Montoya has been working very hard to become a successful IndyCar driver again.
On Sunday at Pocono Raceway, it all paid off for him with his first Indy-car win in almost 14 years – 13 years, nine months, 20 days to be precise, which makes him just the third Indy-car driver since 1909 to go more than a decade between wins (Babe Stapp, John Paul Jr.).
Not that such history really matters to him.
“If you look at everything I did [and] I’ve accomplished so far in racing…20 years from now, they’re going to go, ‘Oh my God, this guy did this,'” he said in post-race. “Right now, I don’t really care.
“Now, I’m thinking about what are we going to do for Iowa. Tomorrow, we’ll have fun with the team and plan how we’re going to run [next] weekend, and what we did right this weekend [and] what we did wrong.”
But while Montoya wouldn’t acknowledge the historical stuff from his win on Sunday- which also includes the fact that he won the fastest 500-mile race in Indy-car history – he did acknowledge that it’s been tough getting re-acclimated to open-wheel.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than people realize because as I said the other day, driving open-wheel [cars] is so different than what I’ve been driving the last few years, and it was going to take time.”
Perhaps that why prior to today, Montoya had only been allowing himself to say things like “getting there” instead of something a bit more affirmative when it came to his process.
“I don’t like jinxing it and saying, ‘Oh, it’s coming, it’s coming,'” he said. “I’d rather be, ‘Let’s just keep working on it.'”
But Pocono definitely marks a milestone in the process, which, if it hasn’t reached its conclusion now is very close to doing so.
As mentioned earlier, Montoya has turned up the wick in the last four races with a third at Texas, a second and a seventh in the Houston doubleheader, and now, the W.
Thanks to that run, Montoya has become a legitimate title contender at just 55 points behind Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who are now tied in first place.
Remarkably, a second series championship is a possibility for Montoya with seven races left in the 2014 campaign. And now that the big prize is in sight, he’s going to work even harder.
“I’m still a ways away, but hey, I think people know that I’m coming, and it’s good,” he said. “It’s definitely a plus.
“I think it’s something that is helping and I’ve got to keep that in mind – I got to [this point] because I’ve been really smart about it, and it’s got to be that way.”