BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) Juan Pablo Montoya is ready for his abbreviated return to Sprint Cup racing.
Montoya will be in the No. 12 Ford for Sunday’s 400-mile race at Michigan International Speedway, his first Cup race since moving back to IndyCar after last season. Montoya’s 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. This weekend’s race is in some ways a tuneup for next month’s Brickyard 400, another NASCAR event Montoya added to his full-time IndyCar schedule.
”Our goal here, I think, is we’ll take it as it comes this weekend,” Montoya said. ”But the way we really look at it is it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard.”
Montoya is one of the world’s most decorated drivers, with an Indianapolis 500 victory and wins in Formula One, NASCAR and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He left Formula One for NASCAR in 2006.
Montoya returned to open-wheel racing this year to drive for Roger Penske, the IndyCar Series rival of Montoya’s longtime boss, Chip Ganassi. Montoya is seventh in the IndyCar standings and finished third last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Now he’s hoping for a strong showing for Penske on the NASCAR side, even if this isn’t his full-time focus anymore.
”With Chip we had good years, bad years, good races, bad – we had everything,” Montoya said. ”The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning, so if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we’ll easily get a top 10, and if I’m really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win.”
Montoya had eight top-10 finishes in 36 Cup starts last year. He’s made 14 Cup starts at MIS, finishing as high as sixth in 2009.
Penske’s other two drivers in Sunday’s race – Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – are fifth and ninth in the Cup standings. Montoya isn’t competing for that title, but both he and his owner would love a good showing at the Brickyard in July.
Montoya is in position to become the first driver to start three feature races at Indy in the same season. He finished 16th in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10, then placed fifth in the Indianapolis 500.
Montoya was 28th in qualifying at Michigan on Friday. Ford has won the last three Cup races at MIS. Logano took last year’s August race, and Greg Biffle took the two before that.
”This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords,” Montoya said. ”They always excel here and have a car that can win, and the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, and we hope it does, we might have a shot at winning this. And then going to the Brickyard, is a place that I run really well.”
Montoya raced in Michigan recently, finishing 13th in the June 1 IndyCar race at Belle Isle. At MIS on Friday, Montoya joked that he got away with blocking during that race. He was asked if some of the familiar faces in NASCAR might be a bit less sensitive about that sort of thing.
”If you think about every series I’ve done, the longest series I’ve been in, in my career, was NASCAR,” Montoya said. ”I was in Formula One for six years and I was here for seven. In IndyCar I’ve only been there for two-and-a-half. So I know the game here – and it’s fun knowing that you’re not doing the whole season.”