IndyCar Driver Review: Juan Pablo Montoya

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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. In P4 was the man who brought back his A-game upon his open-wheel racing return, Juan Pablo Montoya…

2014 SEASON PREVIEW

Juan Pablo Montoya

  • Team: Team Penske
  • 2013: NASCAR
  • 2014: 4th Place, 1 Win, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 167 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 9.7 Avg. Finish

On the whole, Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to IndyCar after a 14-year hiatus must be considered a massive success. I would have pegged him maybe eighth to 10th in the points preseason, and I wasn’t sure he’d win a race. Fourth, with a win, certainly exceeded my projections and I’m guessing a number of other paddock observers.

For the first time in years, there was a consistently sunny, almost charming disposition about the Colombian compared to the dour, “let’s just get on with it” mentality that seemed to pervade his NASCAR career and waning years in F1. Montoya was energized and revitalized by the challenge of coming back to a series he’d ran roughshod over in 1999 and 2000, and seeing whether he still “had it.”

Quite simply, he did. I knew he was “back” when I saw him trackside at St. Petersburg for the season opener and in practice he caught a loose slide at the same level of laser precision he did when he was on the edge of adhesion in CART, with much higher horsepower cars. His first race back, Montoya qualified only 18th and finished 15th; this proved he still he had some ways to go but was determined to get there.

Rather than throw in the towel and mail it in, Montoya got better and better week-by-week as he came to grips with Firestone’s softer red alternate tires, even if his road and street course qualifying left something to be desired. He led 167 laps from five of the six oval races and scored the most points in the field both on ovals and in double points races (342 and 251, respectively). It was one of his most impressive seasons in a career that has featured so many accolades.