Ryan: Juan Pablo Montoya comes full circle at Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS – A mere 15 years after his first swig of milk in the famed Winner’s Circle, Juan Pablo Montoya finally arrived Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 obviously wasn’t the first time Montoya has celebrated a victory in the world’s most famous race.

But it was the first time the swashbuckling fearlessness that has made the Colombian one of the most celebrated drivers of his generation was on full display at the fabled racetrack that has minted heroes for nearly a century.

For the more than 200,000 who annually fill the track in the hopes of cheering bravura and skill, this was the winner they richly had deserved many times before.

With his hands flying around the wheel trying to keep control while his No. 2 Chevrolet danced around the racetrack, Montoya outdueled the defending series champion (Will Power) and a three-time champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner (Scott Dixon).

The performance was boundlessly enthralling compared to the 2000 win in which he led 167 of 200 laps in his first start at the 2.5-mile oval.

“That was an easy race,” he said with a laugh. “But oh my God, this was a lot of work today.”

It carried a lot of significance, too. In setting a record for the longest gap between Indy 500 wins, Montoya also delivered the record-extending 16th win to car owner Roger Penske in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I think he smiled more today than he did (in 2000),” Team Penske president Tim Cindric said. “I think he’s come to appreciate it. I think the cool thing was to see his kids celebrating was what really brought the whole thing full circle for him.”

Montoya, now a 39-year-old married father of three, is much grayer, a little chubbier and visibly looser than the occasionally aloof and impetuous kid who ruled Indy long ago.

During his winner’s news conference, he peppered answers with giddy laughs, leaned back for a big hug from his  son, Sebastian, and turned his voice up a few octaves while recalling the realization he would take the checkered flag.

“Ha, ha, ha,” he exclaimed. “I got this! I was screaming I was so happy.”

In many ways, the emotions made it seem as if this was Montoya’s first win at Indy, but they were belied by his unusually introspective answers.

“You’ve got to understand the big picture of what you need to win,” he said. “It’s just experience. You’re older, you’re wiser, you understand where the races are won, where they’re lost. You make less mistakes. The biggest difference is just experience.”

Indianapolis had taught many of those lessons.

Nowhere has the cocksure Montoya had his confidence shaken and his will tested more than here.

In the 15 years since he burst onto the Brickyard by thumping the field, Indy had become the site of endless ignominy for Monday

In 2006, he triggered a seven-car crash on the first lap of the United States Grand Prix with a mistake that capped a Formula One career as the object of scorn and ridicule in his final race.

In the 2009 Brickyard 400 he squandered a surefire chance to claim the checkered flag by speeding during his last pit stop.

The next year, he again led the most laps and was victimized when a faulty strategy left him mired in traffic instead of scoring the oval win that forever eluded him in the Sprint Cup Series.

But Sunday was the opposite narrative of the dominant disappointments that plagued his NASCAR starts at Indy.

Montoya rebounded from a collision under caution with Simona de Silvestro that required a stop for repairs that dropped him to 30th.

After driving through the field, he slid through the pits on his second stop … and impeccably drove his way to the front again.

“I told my guys there’s a hundred ways to throw this away, and there’s only one way of winning it,” he said. “The guy that makes the least mistakes is going to have the best shot at winning it.

“We executed beautifully. We made a couple small mistakes early, but then we got our composure back and came back.”

Composure never has been a problem for Montoya, who sloughs off pressure with a straight-talking nonchalance about the risks of his job.

In a month marked by incessant reminders of the inherent danger from dicing at 200 mph, there was no winner more befitting Sunday.

“I just drive the freaking thing,” he said three days earlier when asked about the airborne crashes that dominated the headlines at Indy. “The danger is there. It’s always been there.”

That brand of verve has defined the career of a star who dismissively slammed wheels with Michael Andretti and publicly feuded with seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

It also contributed to leaving him on the outs in Formula One and NASCAR. After losing his Cup ride with Chip Ganassi, who also fielded Montoya’s winning entry at Indy in 2000, his prospects seemed uncertain.

Yet along came a return last season to IndyCar (after a 14-year absence) with Penske, whose buttoned-up style of pleated pants and starched shirts seemed an ill fit.

Instead, it’s been the career resurrection Montoya needed. With two wins in the first six starts of the 2015 season, he leads the points standings and is a serious contender to win his first championship since the 1999 CART title.

“I know what it means to Roger and everybody at Team Penske to get this win,” Montoya said. “I thanked him for giving me the opportunity and believing in me that I could get the job done. I’m happy I can prove them right.

“I’m loving racing right now, so it’s great.”

Said Penske: “Just to see Juan race today … If you know him, he’s a fighter.”

Indianapolis rightfully is aware of it now – finally.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage