2014 Verizon IndyCar Season Review: Juan Pablo Montoya

September 19, 2014

Professionally speaking, Juan Pablo Montoya’s career came full circle in 2014 as he returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the first time since taking the series by storm in 1999. That year, Montoya burst onto the international racing scene by winning seven races and the series title as a rookie. A title contender right down to the end of the season in 2014, Montoya ultimately finished fourth in the overall Verizon IndyCar Series standings. However, he was able to revisit Victory Lane during the season, setting the stage what should be another ultra-competitive and title-contending year in 2015. 

Few can match the credentials of Montoya. A winner in IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR and sports car competition, many expected quick success for the Colombian-born driver in his return to American open-wheel racing. Yet Montoya was quick to point out how much the series – along with the cars themselves – had changed since he last competed in IndyCar. His plan was to take a deliberate approach throughout the first portion of the season, one that he hoped would deliver the biggest prize on the calendar, a win in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. 

The season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) proved to be an educational experience for Montoya. Never before had he run on the Firestone “red” alternative tires that provide more grip than the “black” primary tires, but have quicker degradation. His first go with them came in qualifying for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. After starting the race from the 18th position, Montoya piloted his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to a 15th-place finish. Solid results in a race full of unknowns in his first race back in 14 years.  

Yet, in the second race on the streets of Long Beach (Calif.), Montoya turned in a top-five performance, providing a glimpse of what would come when he felt fully comfortable in the DW12 chassis from Dallara. After running well in the wet conditions at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park in the series’ third event, Montoya made an untimely trip off course as the track began to dry that resulted in a 22nd-place finish. Yet it was clear he was gaining speed and confidence. 

The first oval race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season came in the form of the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis 500. The 2000 winner of the race – one of only two men to win it in their only start – Montoya knew the ovals would probably provide the best opportunity to visit Victory Lane after spending seven years running mostly on those types of tracks in NASCAR. He did not disappoint, leading 16 laps with a shot to win before settling for a fifth-place finish.

Following top-10 finishes in two of the next five races – including a sixth-place effort in the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans – Montoya returned to another familiar venue from his NASCAR days, Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Penn.. It was there that he would earn his first Verizon P1 Pole Award before taking the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet to Victory Lane for his first series win since his victory at Gateway International Raceway on September 17, 2000.

The Pocono victory capped a strong stretch of summer races for Montoya as he produced four consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas Motor Speedway and the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, to go along with the performance at Pocono. Following the win, Montoya rose to the fourth position in the championship standings after having been as low as 15th seven races earlier. 

Despite tough sledding over the next four races following the Pocono win in which Montoya failed to finish better than 11th, he still maintained a spot inside the top five in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings heading into the final three races of the season. 

After finishing second to Team Penske teammate and eventual series champion, Will Power, at Milwaukee, Montoya expressed frustration despite his runner-up result. He praised his team and knew of the hard work that had gone into making them contenders for wins and championships and he really wanted to get them another victory. After closing out the season with a fifth-place finish at Sonoma Raceway and a fourth-place result at Auto Club Speedway, Montoya secured fourth place in the series standings, giving Team Penske three of the top four championship positions in a remarkable title-winning year.

“As I said to start the season, we knew it would be a process to get to where we needed to be,” said Montoya. “I had to grow as a driver. We had to make some movements within the team to be stronger, but at the end of the year I think we were legitimately a top-five car each week. To be honest I wasn’t ready to stop racing at the end of August. The way we were running each week I wanted to go until October, but finishing the way we did gives us a lot of confidence heading into 2015. I want to thank Roger Penske for giving me such a great opportunity to get back into the series this season with a winning team and also a big thanks to my crew and our No. 2 team partners, Verizon, PPG, Hawk Performance and Chevy. This year was a lot of fun and season should be even better!”