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Juan Pablo Montoya hopes Pocono can get him back on the right track

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If anyone needs a mulligan this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s Juan Pablo Montoya.

Not just for a race or two, but for nearly half of the first 12 races that have played out thus far in 2016.

The Colombian racing veteran started 2016 in great fashion, winning at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year.

But ever since finishing last in the Indianapolis 500, it’s been all downhill from there for JPM.

Montoya is hoping to put an end to a slide that has seen him drop from first to 12th (the lowest he’s been has been 13th, after Toronto) in the standings.

It’s been especially rough the last five races. Montoya finished 20th in Belle Isle 2, jumped up to seventh at Elkhart Lake, had two additional back-to-back 20th place finishes at Iowa and Toronto and was 11th in the most recent IndyCar race two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.

Any hope of a championship is all but conceded. Now, he’ll be lucky to finish the season in the top 10.

Worst yet, unless his performance and ranking in the standings improve, Montoya is on target to record his worst season finish ever in open-wheel racing – including CART, Formula One and IndyCar. His previous worst season was ninth in his final season in CART in 2000 (and was eighth in his final F1 season in 2006).

“This season has been as frustrating as I can remember,” Montoya said. “We’ve had a good car pretty much everywhere, but we’re not getting the results for one reason or another.”

That’s why Montoya, who turns 41 on Sept. 20, hopes he can still salvage somewhat of an end-of-season turnaround in the final four races of the 2016 campaign, starting with this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

He couldn’t pick a better place: He won there in 2014 and finished third in last season’s race, which was marred by the tragic death of Justin Wilson in a racing accident.

And given Montoya is 19 points out of 10th place (Charlie Kimball) and 58 points out of fifth place (tie, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan), he still has hope a good run at Pocono could help him start a climb back upward in the standings.

“Pocono has been good to us the last couple of years,” Montoya said. “I hope it brings some good luck. The Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet team definitely needs some of that right now.

“Pocono is great track for IndyCar with a lot of opportunities to make things happen. It would be nice to finish the season strong.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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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.