In the second race of the season for the Verizon IndyCar Series, Juan Pablo Montoya posted a solid top-five finish of fouth.
Montoya started the race in the 16th position, though was inside the top 10 by lap eight. His race hit a small snag at lap 27 when the yellow flew as Montoya pitted, resulting in Montoya having to start tail end of the field for the restart due to pitting when the pits was closed.
Montoya then used the second half of the event to move his way back up into the top 10 and avoid a wreck that happened among the leaders, while making a couple more passes, on his way to finishing fourth.
“That was an interesting race. What an amazing team and I really have to thank Verizon and Chevy,” Montoya commented post-race. “I could’ve been a little more aggressive at the end but I really wanted to make sure we didn’t get in any trouble and got a decent finish in the Verizon car. We had some close calls out there but we kept pushing and to come out of Long Beach with a top-five finish is pretty good.”
For Montoya, it marks his first top five finish since returning to IndyCar for the first time in 2000. Montoya kicked off the season with a 15th place finish two weeks ago at St. Petersburg.
Combining Montoya’s first IndyCar event since 2000 and the fact that he’d never been on the St. Petersburg course before, it is understandable that there would be some struggles. Montoya admitted post-race two weeks ago that he made some mistakes and at times pushed the car too hard.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Montoya is a past winner at Long Beach, having won a CART event there in the past. He knows the course and the type of layout it offers. Combining the familiarity with the fact that he had the testing and a race under his belt, Montoya was able to put the pieces together for a solid top-five result. If the wreck hadn’t happened, then Montoya was slotted for a eighth or ninth place finish. He also admitted that he could’ve been more aggressive, but was worried about pushing it over the edge as he did at St. Petersburg.
A look at the Columbian’s demeanor also shows that he is relaxed and having fun being back in what is considered his “wheel-house”. While he had decent success in NASCAR, Montoya wasn’t a driver that contended for wins on a weekly basis.
For Montoya, the journey of feeling comfortable and contending for podium finishes is beginning to form. Taking in lessons each week and learning what the car will give him and what he needs to get out of the car will only help improve things overall.
The race at Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks should continue this trend with Montoya possibly running inside the top five throughout the race. It’s a track that Montoya has raced on in the past and tested earlier this year on. Montoya showed speed during that test with his teammates so the same should be expected upon his return.
As the journey continues, the one question remains – when will Montoya contend for wins?
The answer looks to be May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With oval experience in his back pocket and forefront on the mind from his NASCAR years combined with what he knows about open-wheel racing, Montoya should be a contender to win this year’s Indianapolis 500 if the Chevrolet motors are as strong, or stronger, than the Honda motors.
Beyond Indianapolis, Montoya’s comfort on road courses should show it’s head as we get into June or July as having four or five road/street courses under his belt should give him the comfort needed to return to victory lane.