Pocono IndyCar Pole Belongs To Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya sped to the pole on Saturday for Sunday's Verizon IndyCar Series race in Pocono, Pa. (Al Steinberg photo)
Juan Pablo Montoya sped to the pole on Saturday for Sunday's Verizon IndyCar Series race in Pocono, Pa. (Al Steinberg photo)
Juan Pablo Montoya sped to the pole on Saturday for Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race in Pocono, Pa. (Al Steinberg photo)

LONG POND, Pa. – It was just a week ago that Juan Pablo Montoya believed he was almost all the way back as an IndyCar Series driver when the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner proclaimed, “I’m getting there.”

He backed that up with a second-place finish in last Saturday’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers. On Saturday, he scored another accomplishment with his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole for Sunday’s Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco on the same Pocono Raceway where he won a NASCAR Sprint Cup pole in 2012.

The only other drivers to win an IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Pole at the same track are Tony Stewart (Charlotte and Texas) and A.J. Foyt (Atlanta, Riverside and Ontario).

Montoya was the last driver to make a qualification attempt and his two-lap time of 1:20.4034 gave him a two-lap average speed of 223.871 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet.

It was Montoya’s first IndyCar pole since Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland, Australia on October 15, 2000 in the Honda Indy 300. His NASCAR pole at Pocono was in the 2012 Pennsylvania 400 on Aug. 5, 2012.

That pole was a fast lap at 176.043 miles per hour in a Chevrolet. Montoya’s Chevy went considerably faster on Saturday around the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway.

He was the last driver to make a qualification attempt on Saturday evening and knocked off his Team Penske teammate Will Power and was one of many drivers to break Marco Andretti’s previous track record of 221.377 mph set last July.

“It always helps a little bit to run late but it’s the luck of the draw,” Montoya said. “The big thing for us was balance. When you have good teammates you can see how much they struggle and then adjust the car so you get a little more information. After Will Power’s run I already knew what I wanted to do on my run.

“I didn’t lift as much as Will.”

Team Penske makes up two-thirds of the three-driver Front Row as Power’s two-lap average was 223.725 mph. Carlos Munoz starts on the outside of the front row with a two-lap average of 223.083 mph.

As for Montoya, a driver that was magic when he raced in CART in 1999 and won the Indy 500 in 2000 before heading off to Formula One in 2001 and later NASCAR in 2007, he is making serious progress in his return to IndyCar.

“We’re getting there,” he said again on Saturday. “I feel I’m still lacking a little bit. I’m getting a lot better. I feel a lot more comfortable in the car – like I feel at home in the car now. But I need to be a little more proactive with the car, understand it a little better, help the engineers a little more. Like I can tell them what the car is doing, but the more I learn the more I can tell them which direction we need to go with the car to make ourselves better because the series is so close and we’ve got two really good teammates between Will and Helio, and we help each other and everything, but I feel to be able to get an edge on them I’ve got to do a better job of understanding the cars so I can get ahead of them.

“It’s the only way.”

Power was on the pole before Montoya took to the track as the final driver.

“It was a pretty good run,” Power said. “I had probably too big of a lift on my first lap, too much understeer, but apart from that, Juan ran a bit more downforce, so I thought if he can be flat or have less of a lift, he’s going to be very tough to beat. But still very good for Penske to have a one‑two.”

Munoz will lead a trio of Andretti drivers from the third starting position as the first three rows feature an Andretti driver on the outside position with James Hinchcliffe on the outside of Row 2 and this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay on the outside of Row 3.

“We’ve been pretty strong all day long on the practice, in the qualifying,” Munoz said. “I think we were really conservative with the car with the aero because I think the condition was much better on the afternoon than the morning.

“But you know, it’s a great position, third, for a long race. I always say qualifying is less than 5 percent of the race. The good thing is we have a great car with great speed, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”