Montoya Drops NASCAR for IndyCar
Charlotte, n.c. — Juan Pablo Montoya has an added boost of motivation to win races again. And he’s teaming with longtime boss Chip Ganassi’s top rival to do it.
Montoya ended his underwhelming NASCAR stint on Monday for a return to IndyCar, where he’ll drive for Ganassi rival Roger Penske.
The Colombian has agreed to join Team Penske next season as a teammate to current IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves and Will Power. He could also drive in some NASCAR races as part of the deal.
“It came down to I wanted to race for Roger,” Montoya said. “In a way, it’s always been one of my dreams to be able to be part of his organization. Being here, it’s unbelievable. I’m so excited. I’m like a 5-year-old kid right now.”
Some could also consider the move a big piece of gamesmanship in the racing rivalry that spans two series between Ganassi and Penske.
Ganassi decided in August he was not bringing Montoya back to his NASCAR program next season. But he and Penske are fierce rivals in IndyCar, and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon is currently locked in the championship battle with Castroneves.
“He’s a great driver and deserves a great drive,” Ganassi told The Associated Press. “He will have that there at Penske Racing.”
Montoya said he tried to call Ganassi, who is in Europe, on Monday morning to inform him of his decision, but had to text him when he couldn’t reach him.
“He’s very excited for me; something that we have with Chip is that we’re very good friends,” Montoya said. “We have a lot of respect for each other. He had to make a decision this year to go in a different direction. I had to do the same thing.
“I had an opportunity and a great chance with Penske. We’re going to be competitors, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Montoya won the 1999 CART title, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and 11 races driving open-wheel for Ganassi. He then moved to Formula One, where he had seven wins and 30 podiums, before reuniting with Ganassi again in 2006 to compete in NASCAR.
Montoya had said he’d consider all opportunities once he learned he was not going to return to Ganassi’s Sprint Cup Series car, and he spoke with Michael Andretti about an IndyCar ride. Andretti looked for the sponsorship needed to sign Montoya, but Montoya informed Andretti last week he was no longer interested in a partnership.
Montoya also had an offer in NASCAR to replace Kurt Busch at Furniture Row Racing next season. He visited that team’s shop in Colorado, but his first choice was to sign with an organization that could give him cars capable of winning every race.
He lacked that in NASCAR with Ganassi, which has had roller-coaster performance as an organization but is consistently among the best in IndyCar. Ganassi’s top rival? Penske, winner of 15 Indianapolis 500s.
“We look forward to building on his successes together and we believe he will be a great addition to Team Penske,” Penske said.
Montoya has been with Ganassi since 2006 when he abruptly left Formula One — where he had seven wins and 30 podiums — for NASCAR. It’s his second stint with the car owner — the two teamed together to win the 1999 CART championship and 2000 Indianapolis 500 before Montoya moved to F1.
But results in NASCAR have been sporadic. Montoya has just two wins in 244 career starts and his best season finish was eighth in 2009. He’s 20th in the standings this season.
The program has been through several rebuilds since Montoya came aboard, and it was a middle-of-the-road organization when he signed on in 2006. It was Ganassi that was the draw for Montoya: The two had won 11 races together in 1999 and 2000 in CART, including the Indy 500.
Their first NASCAR season was decent and gave the organization a boost with a win on the road course at Sonoma, six top-10s and rookie of the year in 2007. But 2008 was the first sign of trouble as Montoya had two crew chief changes in the first 16 races.
Montoya made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009 with crew chief Brian Pattie behind a career-best 18 top-10s, and he was third in points with six races to go in the season before fading to eighth in the final standings.
He won on the road course at Watkins Glen in 2010, but Pattie was let go before Indianapolis in 2011 for Montoya’s fourth crew chief change. The Ganassi team began another overhaul that winter and Chris Heroy was hired as Montoya’s fifth crew chief before 2012. That entire season was spent trying to get the Ganassi cars up to speed.
Montoya is now stuck in the middle of a spat between Penske and Ganassi drivers over in IndyCar.
Ganassi driver Dixon was penalized in Sonoma when his car made contact with a crew member for Power, Castroneves’ teammate, on the final pit stop. IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield said Dixon had driven into the Penske Racing work space, but Dixon alleged the crew member walked into his car.
The penalty cost Dixon a chance to race for the win, and opinion was split through the paddock as to who was at fault and if race control perhaps should not have penalized anyone.
Dixon and Power collided at the next race at Baltimore, and the contact ended Dixon’s day when IndyCar officials did not tow his car back to pit lane for repairs. He then said Barfield should be fired, comments that earned him a $30,000 fine from IndyCar.