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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Juan Pablo Montoya

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, after the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Next up is the runner-up, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 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
  • 2015: 2nd Place, 2 Wins, 0 Poles (started first twice via qualifying rainouts), 5 Podiums, 9 Top-5, 13 Top-10, 145 Laps Led, 6.4 Avg. Start, 6.9 Avg. Finish

It probably could have been Juan Pablo Montoya’s championship, and should have been if simply one more race result at any point over 16 races would have come good. Montoya’s frequently uttered line of “is it what it is,” while cliché, is probably a good way of describing his 2015 season.

What can you say of Montoya’s excellent car control and strategic defense in the opening six races of the year? It is what it is. Anyone who’s followed Montoya’s career since his arrival in CART as a then-23-year-old fresh-faced rookie in 1999 will know watching his on-boards is simply a joy to behold. His comeback, then defense against Will Power at this year’s Indianapolis 500 is going to be something you remember for a long time.

His qualifying this year? It is what it is, which is to say much better than it was in 2014. Montoya improved from a 10.6 average grid position to 6.4 this year, and that made the job so much easier on Sundays.

His consistent, if less than impressive string of results post-the Indianapolis 500? It is what it is. Six straight results between fourth and 10th from Detroit through Milwaukee were never dynamic drives, but always good enough to bank his points lead and get it north of 40 points.

His luck going bad in the final four races? It is what it is. Every one of the title contenders had some sort of rut during the season and Montoya’s came at the worst possible time, with a suspension failure at Iowa, getting caught out on a yellow at Mid-Ohio, and then his infamous coming-together with Will Power at Sonoma all coming when he had little to no chance of recovering.

His attitude at Sonoma and then the night after at the championship banquet? It is what it is. JPM’s infamous “Dixon had a (expletive) season” line in the Sonoma press conference came off poorly, but he course corrected rather nicely with his comments during the championship celebration Monday night.

Was it good to see Montoya back in title-contending form? Yes, it certainly was. Overall, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t care what we think of him, because it is what it is.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.