Passion, not stats, continues to fuel Juan Pablo Montoya

Photo: LAT USA/courtesy Steve Shunck

Statistically and versatility speaking, Juan Pablo Montoya is one of the greatest drivers of his generation.

He’s won two championships (1999 CART, 1998 Formula 3000), 14 total IndyCar races over parts of four seasons including two Indianapolis 500s (received his likeness on Borg-Warner Trophy last week), seven Formula 1 races including Monaco in 2003, two Sprint Cup races, one Xfinity race, and three Rolex 24s at Daytona.

And that’s before you get to all the pole positions (17 in IndyCar, 13 in Formula 1), fastest laps and other accolades over the years.

I bring up all these statistics a., because I’m a self-admitted stat nerd and b., so you know what they are.

Because Juan Pablo Montoya simply does not care about statistics.

He just cares about winning, and his passion for winning fuels him, still, at age 40.

“I don’t do it for that, to say, ‘God, I’m the man,’” Montoya said during Wednesday’s Chevrolet champions celebration event at the GM Heritage Center.

“I like racing, I have the passion for it, I want to beat everyone else, do a better job than everyone else, work harder than everyone else, and that’s it.”

It’s that passion that arguably burned him in the immediate moment of losing this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship – the infamous “Dixon had a s*** season” line in the post-race press conference at Sonoma standing out the most. But, as he showcased the Monday night afterwards, he got over it rather quickly and was even poking a bit of fun at himself.

And it’s the passion of his team boss, Roger Penske, that also continues to push him to do better.

Penske didn’t grow to become the most successful car owner and one of the country’s largest automotive dealers by standing still. He sought to win, at every opportunity, at all opportunities.

He’s the last man in history to have ever assembled now a one-off special for the Indianapolis 500; the pushrod Mercedes-Illmor engine that dominated the 1994 race lives in history 20-plus years later in Jade Gurss’ instant hit, “Beast.”

Adding a driver of Montoya’s caliber, who’s similarly motivated to winning with nothing else mattering, was arguably one of the biggest coups – and greatest additions – in the last two decades of IndyCar.

“You know I am really excited to be a part of this,” Montoya admits. “I never thought that I’d be back in IndyCar.

“But to watch the video (of the Indianapolis 500) is pretty exciting.

“Last year I was good, but it was my first oval back in IndyCar. This year I was a lot more aggressive. The NASCAR helped me to do 500-mile races.”

Considering Montoya’s open-wheel record on 500-mile races though (here we go with stats again) that seems a bit of a reach.

In 11 career open-wheel 500-mile races, Montoya has four wins, 10 top-five finishes, an average finish of 3.2, 2469 of 2500 laps completed, and 440 laps led.

Montoya at GM Heritage Center. Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet
Montoya at GM Heritage Center. Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet

Asked what about Penske inspires Montoya, the Colombian had a simple answer.

“Him,” he said, no hesitation.

“He’s such an amazing person… as a driver to be with him, it’s just unbelievable.”

Montoya isn’t necessarily drawing down his career – even at 40, he was one race away from his second IndyCar championship, some 16 years after his first – but he is fostering his own son, Sebastian, now 10, who has his own burgeoning karting career.

The elder Montoya says it’s his job to stay out of the way and let Sebastian grow on his own.

“I try to keep it really cool for him, you know what I mean?” JPM said. “Especially at his age, he has to enjoy it.

“Part of my success is the passion I have for racing. So he needs to have that.

“When he turns 14, 15 and starts looking at girls, the car needs to be more exciting than a girl. That’s where it’s gonna be. It’s gotta be fun.

“He loves it. He has a lot of passion. I try to keep it really down to earth. I don’t want to put any extra pressure on him that he doesn’t need. He’s done good. Some weeks he struggles, some he does good.”

Proof clearly the passion is in the pipeline from one generation of Montoya to the next.

And so long as Juan Pablo Montoya continues to have the passion for kicking ass and taking names as he continues to drive, whatever field he’s competing in should be very afraid.

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500