Juan Pablo Montoya’s fifth place marks for nice Indy 500 return

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Much like AJ Allmendinger last year, Team Penske’s third car – in this case, the No. 2 Penske Motorsports entry driven by Juan Pablo Montoya – was a factor throughout much of the Indianapolis 500 even if the ultimate result didn’t match the form shown throughout the race.

JPM’s ‘500 return to the Brickyard for the first time since his 2000 win was pretty much going according to plan for the first 132 laps. Montoya, in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, led three times for 16 laps as on each of the first four pit stop sequences, he was able to run several laps longer than his competitors after good fuel saving runs.

But his strategy was foiled when after his Lap 131 pit stop, his fourth of the day, he got called for a pit road speeding violation. It was an ignominious matching of something he did in the 2009 Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, which he dominated but lost due to that call.

Sunday, Montoya admitted to making a mistake that cost him the time. Interestingly it was a pit stop that cost Allmendinger last year, when his seat belts came loose.

“Unfortunately I made a mistake on one of the pit stops when I was resetting the fuel. I pressed the wrong button,” Montoya said. “We got a penalty for that but we came back. I was proud of the way we fought.”

Montoya dropped back into the mid-teens thereafter but recovered to fifth after the final 51 laps featured five cautions for 21 laps, and a host of those in front of him self-destructed.

But come back he did, and fifth after his first Indianapolis 500 in 14 years was a decent result on its own.

Pure Penske material? Perhaps not, but a definite “make the most of what you got”-type result.

“I don’t think we had anything for (Ryan) Hunter-Reay or Helio (Castroneves),” he said. “It was cool to watch them swap the lead back and forth in the final laps. I had a good seat for it. We just had too much understeer in traffic.”

The result is Montoya’s second top-five finish in his full-season Verizon IndyCar Series return. After his 13th-place qualifying last Saturday (21 points) and ultimate 10th-place start for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, JPM added 61 more to his name Sunday (30 for a standard fifth, doubled to 60, plus 1 for leading a lap) and is now seventh in the points.

Teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves are second and third.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.