MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya is turning Indianapolis into his own triple play.
Roger Penske’s team announced Wednesday that the Colombian driver will add two NASCAR races – Indianapolis and Michigan – to his full-time IndyCar schedule.
Montoya already is scheduled to compete in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10. One week later, he will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Now he’ll return to Indy for the Brickyard 400 in July, too, and if he qualifies for each one, Montoya would be the first driver to start three feature races at Indy in the same season.
“Three chances gives me a better chance of winning one of them now,” said Montoya, who will drive the No. 12 Ford Fusion for Penske’s team at Indy and Michigan.
No driver has won even two of the biggest feature races at the track – the 500, the Brickyard, the U.S. Grand Prix or the MotoGP race.
Montoya wants to be the first to have it on his already unique resume.
The 38-year-old was dominant in his 2000 Indy win, becoming the first rookie winner in 34 years. He completed another first Wednesday – becoming the first driver to experience every racing configuration at the historic Brickyard. In addition to competing on the 2.5-mile oval in IndyCars and Cup cars, he also has competed on the original road course in Formula One, did a two-seater ride on the MotoGP course and was one of about two dozen drivers testing Indy’s new road course Wednesday.
This year’s return to open-wheel cars could help him prepare for the June 15 and July 27 Cup races. He has competed in that series for the previous eight years.
“I think running Michigan and here are two tracks where running open-wheel helps you, especially Michigan, which is a lot like an open-wheel car because you don’t slow down much and use momentum and lot of high speed,” Montoya said. “Coming here to the Brickyard, it’s one of those places where I feel like I got robbed a few times. To be able to come here and be able to close that deal will be really, really nice.””
Montoya has two wins, 24 top-five finishes and nine pole awards in his Cup career. He has one top-10 finish in three IndyCar races this year. He will join Penske’s full-time Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, both of whom have already visited Victory Lane in 2014.
Ryan Blaney will drive the same No. 12 car for NASCAR races in Kansas and Talladega. SKF will sponsor all the races except Indianapolis.
Until moving back this season, Montoya hadn’t driven IndyCars since 2000 when he was competing with Chip Ganassi’s team, Penkse’s biggest rival.
Montoya won seven races in CART and the 500 in his two open-wheel seasons with Ganassi. Their run together also included the 1999 CART championship. He then moved to Formula One, where he spent six seasons before abruptly quitting to return to the United States to compete in NASCAR. He reunited with Ganassi, but the results never came.
His last win in NASCAR was in 2010, a year after he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and finished a career-best eighth in the standings.
Montoya was in serious contention to win at least two Brickyard 400s, but both chances slipped away in the waning laps.
Montoya led 116 laps in 2009 until a speeding penalty on his final pit stop cost him the win. He was also leading in 2010 with 20 laps to go before a late caution sent him to pit road, where he got four tires while everyone else took two. Stuck deep in traffic with little time to make up the ground, Montoya crashed and finished 32nd.
Penske’s team is willing to give him another chance.
“It (the Brickyard) is one of the biggest races of the year and to go there with somebody that could have won the race a few of times already is something that we’re looking forward to,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said. “To just run the Brickyard would be a pretty big ask of our team and of Juan, without having spent much time in our cars or having been out in a Cup car for a while, so we felt like we needed to give him another shot at it prior to the Brickyard so he could get ready for us.”