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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.