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Montoya vindicated by Pocono win

Many wondered if trying to return to his glory days in US open wheel racing was a good idea for Juan Pablo Montoya. They're not wondering anymore.
Juan Pablo Montoya came close to winning last weekend at Houston, and headed into this week's competition at the very different Pocono Raceway tri-oval full of confidence and optimism that a win surely wouldn't be long in coming. In fact it came even quicker than he'd dared hope.

First he clinched his first 2014 pole on Saturday, and then in just under two an a half hours on Sunday afternoon in what was the fastest 500-mile race ever run in IndyCar he went on to convert that pole to a most emphatic win that left a huge smile plastered across his face for the rest of the day.

"It's huge. I was overly excited coming to the line, I can tell you that," he said as the celebrations got underway.

"It's been a long road. It's a lot harder than people realise ... Driving open wheels is so different than what I've been driving the last few years, and it was going to take time. I don't like jinxing it and saying, oh, it's coming, it's coming. I'd rather be let's just keep working on it."

Not that winning a race is the pinnacle of his ambitions for his first year back in US open wheel racing since 2000, after which he spent years competing in F1 and NASCAR. With a victory under his belt, Montoya is now eyeing up a title run.

"I feel at this point we've got to step it up and work a little bit harder because I think we're in a position now to win the championship, he said. "You know, we've been having really good finishes and everything, but if we want to win the championship, we've got to make sure we perform a little better on the street courses and stuff like that. We haven't run on short ovals so I have no idea what to expect - hopefully it's as good as this.

Montoya's NASCAR experience meant that he was already familiar with the unique Tricky Triangle circuit despite this being his first outing at the circuit in an IndyCar race. However he pointed out that the two styles of motor racing are too different to allow much transfer of knowledge between them.

"The cars are so different, we go over 10 seconds a lap quicker [than NASCAR] so no. I mean, I wish it would. The only thing that helped was I knew where the corners were when we came here and tested."

However he did credit NASCAR for giving him a broader strategic view of racing than he'd had before when he raced in the CART World Series and in F1.

"NASCAR really showed me to look at the bigger picture that you never did, and I think 90 percent of the open wheel guys never look at the bigger picture," he suggested. "I probably lost formula championships and everything by not looking at the bigger picture ... It's a shame you can't turn back to be 20 again with this experience, but it's what it is."

Montoya is also running two NASCAR Cup races for Roger Penske's Cup team this season, but the Colombian was insistent that this didn't mean he was pining for a full time return to stock car racing.

"I think now I'm really settled on the IndyCar," he said. "I really wanted to be here in IndyCar, so I'll probably be here next year for sure, as well.

"I knew it was going to take a little bit of time, but I mean, having the opportunity to run for Roger, it's unbelievable. I've worked really hard physically and mentally to get here, and I feel in a really good place right now. I'm really happy."

And Montoya was quick to acknowledge that he owes a lot of this weekend's success to Roger Penske: "I want to thank Roger for believing in me after how many years out of open-wheel, coming back and believing I could do it.

"I think Roger is the man," he continued. "I mean, it's unbelievable everything he does. He's head and shoulders above anybody else. That's why everybody wants to be like him. He's an example to anybody ... I'm not saying this because I run for him. I mean, I knew Roger a little bit, but now that I work with him, it's unbelievable. He knows everybody's names. The way he does things, you're not surprised why you're kicking everybody's ass, put it that way."

Team Penske is certainly dominating this year's Verizon IndyCar Series season: Montoya's win at Pocono was made slightly easier in the closing laps when his chief threat, team mate Will Power, was handed a drive-thru penalty after seemingly making a dangerous blocking move down the frontstretch on the third member of the Penske team, Helio Castroneves.

"I was heading that way, I was heading over and over and over," Power insisted afterwards, clearly unhappy with the blocking call. "He is my teammate. Another penalty. Another drive-through and another good opportunity lost."

For his part, Castroneves was quick to play down the incident "We were racing hard, that's the beauty of Team Penske - there is no team order. I don't think many teams are able to apply that rule.

"Obviously the only rule is do not take each other out, but race hard, and especially both of us in the championship. I wasn't expecting anything different to be honest," he added. "I'm not the one to make the call, but in the end, like I said, we are racing very aggressive."

Asked about the penalty, team boss Roger Penske took a carefully neutral approach. "I think that's up to the officials. Obviously it's a shame for [Will] but these guys are racers. You tell them, 'Let's keep each other on the track.' But that was a little tight there for us," he admitted.

Power and Castroneves are now tied in the championship standings, with Montoya up to fourth place and just 54 points behind the leaders after the double-points event at Pocono this weekend.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, takes the chequered flag as he races to victory Sunday, July 6, 2014 during the Pocono IndyCar 500 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to victory Sunday, July 6, 2014 during the Pocono IndyCar 500 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to victory Sunday, July 6, 2014 during the Pocono IndyCar 500 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates with Helio Castroneves and Carlos Munoz on the podium after the Pocono IndyCar 500. (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates after the Pocono IndyCar 500. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Will Power Texas
Detroit IndyCar Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves 2017 Indy 500 practice
Will Power Indy 500 practice
Simon Pagenaud Phoenix IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Penske, IndyCar, Barber Motorsports Park
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]

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