Montoya: A faster re-acclimation to Indy 500 than expected

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It’s interesting that Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to the Indianapolis 500 hasn’t, yet, been a major story of the first week of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ marquee race.

His teammates under the Team Penske umbrella have been. Will Power’s been quick, and also offered his thoughts on double points for the 500-mile races and additional points for qualifying. Helio Castroneves is rocking a throwback Pennzoil paint scheme and has also topped the time sheets; at the moment, his 227-plus mph lap from Thursday is the fastest of the week.

Yet Montoya, who is back at IMS going the normal oval direction for the Indianapolis 500 after spending time racing at IMS in either the Brickyard 400, U.S. Grand Prix or GRAND-AM Rolex Series race the last 14 years, was pleased and surprised with how quickly he got back up to speed here on the oval, in an IndyCar.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I was really surprised when I came on Sunday,” Montoya said during a Friday morning press conference. “I went out and I said, ‘I’m going to take my time. Full throttle, lifted on three and four, second lap, third lap, fourth lap, I’m good.’ It was nice.”

Through Thursday’s running, Montoya completed 279 laps and had the 11th best speed of 225.134 mph in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for Penske Motorsports.

He’s already thrilled with how fast the entire Penske organization has got their heads wrapped around the setup on the cars.

“One of the cool things about being with Team Penske, they do such a good job with the cars,” he said. “The experience here is so good. They really know what they’re doing. It makes it so easy for us, it really does.

“I mean, when you’re trying, like yesterday we were starting to trim the car out in case it rained today, okay, I have a little bit of understeer, they change it.  They really know how much to change the car, to adjust the car.  It makes it fun.”

Montoya has a legitimate shot at being in the fastest nine qualifiers on Saturday, to then have a run for the pole on Sunday. But clearly he’s back, as he helps the team in search of Roger Penske’s 16th Indianapolis 500 victory, and first since 2009 (Castroneves).

Make sure to follow all of Friday’s Indy 500 ‘Carb Day’ action on NBCSN from Indianapolis

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It’s known as “Carburetor Day” – or in its simplest term, just “Carb Day.”

But the final day of on-track action Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 is so much more.

Especially on NBCSN, which will have wall-to-wall live coverage starting Friday morning.

Here’s how Friday’s schedule breaks down:

  • 11 a.m. ET: Carb Day kicks off with the final practice for Sunday’s Indy 500. The session will last one hour in length.
  • 12 p.m. ET: We’re going racing! Strap in for coverage of the Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 on the famous Brickyard.
  • 1:30 p.m. ET: We’ll have coverage of the annual IndyCar Pit Stop Challenge. Which teams have the best – and most importantly, fastest and accurate – pit crews? Team Penske has won 10 of the last 12, including the last two years edging out Schmidt Peterson Motorsports each time. Who can potentially beat them this year?
  • 3:30 p.m. ET: We’ll have our annual Motorsports Special. Among segments included will be:

    1) 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi will discuss how it used to upset him when people suggested he “backed into” his big win and how he didn’t really feel vindicated until he qualified on the front row for last year’s race.
    2) Defending 500 winner Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to ever win at Indianapolis, discusses the impact of his big win personally and professionally, particularly back in his native land.
    3) An essay by Robin Miller on Stefan Wilson giving up his ride last year to allow Fernando Alonso to race for Andretti Autosport.

Check your local listings for replay times.

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