INDIANAPOLIS – Juan Pablo Montoya has driven everything at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway except the Pace Car. And one day, he’ll probably drive that.
That is why it’s no surprise to see the driver currently fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series points for Team Penske getting ready to qualify for his eighth John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Montoya will drive the No. 12 Penske Truck Rental Ford in Sunday’s race but first the non-NASCAR regular will have to qualify for one of the 43 starting positions Saturday at 2:10 p.m.
“I think it’s fun,” Montoya said. “There’s a lot of history here. I’ve done a lot of racing. I’ve run pretty much everything that’s raced here, even with the bikes, I’ve been in a two-seater bike, so I’ve pretty much done everything here.”
Montoya has been impressive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever since he won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. The 1999 CART champion whipped the field of Indy Racing League drivers that day, leading 167 of 200 laps to become the first rookie to win the Indy 500 since Graham Hill in 1966. He left CART after the 2000 season but never left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, competing in the United States Grand Prix Formula One race from 2001-2006 with a fourth-place finish in 2002.
He made the stunning decision to leave Formula One for NASCAR in 2006 and began his string of starts in the Brickyard 400 in 2007 with a second-place finish. Montoya has led 203 laps in the Brickyard 400 including a dominating performance in the 2009 when he started 2nd and drove away to lead 116 laps before he was penalized for speeding on pit road while leading the race. He came back the following year to start on the pole and lead 86 laps before he was involved in a crash late in the race.
Montoya started eighth and finished ninth in last year’s Brickyard leading one lap before he made his return to IndyCar racing in 2014.
He’s even competed in one Brickyard Grand Prix Grand-Am race (now on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship schedule) in 2012.
This season, Montoya is fifth in the standings, 105 points behind the leader Helio Castroneves – his teammate at Team Penske. He finished fifth in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
While Castroneves and fellow Team Penske driver Will Power have the weekend off Montoya was back in a stock car on Friday. He was 28th quickest out of 46 cars that practiced with a lap at 180.144 miles per hour. Matt Kenseth was the fastest driver of the day with a lap at 186.285 mph in a Toyota followed by Clint Bowyer’s Toyota at 186.070 mph. Montoya’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, was third at 185.939 mph in a Ford with four-time Brickyard 400 winner and six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson fourth at 185.647 mph in a Chevrolet and rookie Kyle Larson’s 185.445 mph in a Chevrolet.
Montoya, who has competed in one other Sprint Cup race this year at Michigan in June, spent most of his session working on race setup and getting re-acclimated to the stock car.