Juan Pablo Montoya is one of a handful of drivers to attempt the transition from open-wheel to stock cars, and the first to leave Formula One and run a full schedule in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Montoya’s talent has shown in NASCAR, as it has in other series he’s attempted. He’s a winner of the 2000 Indianapolis 500, Formula One’s 2003 Monaco Grand Prix and two Sprint Cup races. The 1999 CART champion, Montoya and team owner Chip Ganassi have worked often and well together. The 36-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia is also actively involved in charity work through his Formula Smiles Foundation. For Montoya, winning in NASCAR is just another step in a storied career. Rea White takes a look at 10 of Montoya’s top racing accomplishments:
Montoya prepared for his major-league racing career by cutting his teeth in the Formula 3000 series. He raced there for two seasons – and quickly showcased the talent that would vault him through subsequent series. Montoya earned seven wins and the 1998 series title during his tenure there.
Making his move
Montoya decided to shift into the world of NASCAR, debuting with a limited schedule in 2006. Montoya raced in four Busch (now Nationwide) and one Cup event that season. The following year, he moved into the Cup ranks full time but continued to race a limited schedule in the Busch series. He picked up the competitive pace that year. After suffering an engine failure in the opening race of the season, and being caught up in a crash in the second, Montoya came out and earned his initial NASCAR victory in the third Busch race of the season. His victory in Mexico City was his first NASCAR win, and the first sign that he would be a road-course racer to watch in races to come.
Montoya and his wife, Connie Freydell, are intent on giving back through the Formula Smile Foundation, an active charity developed by the driver. The mission of the charity is to “improve, through sports, the quality of life of Colombian children in vulnerable situations,” according to a foundation Web site. Montoya, pictured working the phones as part of NASCAR Day, actively participates in endeavors aimed at supporting both this charity and the NASCAR Foundation.
Let me drive
In addition to his regular NASCAR duties, Montoya (center, pictured with teammates Scott Pruett to the left and Salvador Duran) has found time to dabble in other racing series — like running the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Montoya has teamed with fellow Ganassi drivers in the annual event, and found much success. He was on the winning team for the race in 2007 and then became the first driver in history to win in his first two attempts at the race by taking the victory once more in 2008. He finished second in the race in 2009.
In his third full season of Cup competition in 2009, Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie proved to be increasingly consistent competitors. Montoya avoided posting any unfinished races and gained a foothold among the series’ elite with a season that included 18 top-10 finishes, seven of them top-fives. That put him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time and in position to finish a career-best eighth in the standings.
Montoya enjoyed several successes during his six-year Formula One career. He won seven races in the series, including three in 2005. He finished in the top 10 in the standings in each of his seasons. But the shining moment of that segment of his career came in the winning of the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, Formula One’s marquee event. That highlighted an outstanding season for the driver, one in which he finished third in the series standings behind two of the sport’s all-time greats, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
Indy 500 champ
In 2000, Montoya and his Ganassi team jumped from CART to the rival IndyCar Series to try their hand at the Indianapolis 500 — and easily took the win. Montoya led 167 of the race’s 200 laps, beating Buddy Lazier and Eliseo Salazar to win open-wheel racing’s most prestigious American event.
In 1999, his debut CART season, Montoya was a force. He not only snared top rookie honors with his stellar season, but also the series title. In 20 starts, Montoya earned seven victories. He posted 13 top-10 finishes, 10 of them top fives, and bested the competition with an average start of 5.0 and an average finish of 8.0. At 24, Montoya became the youngest champion in series history.
Montoya debuted full time in the Cup series in 2007. It didn’t take long for he and team owner Chip Ganassi to fulfill the promise of the talented star. Montoya won in NASCAR’s elite level at Infineon Raceway — a victory that came in the season’s 16th race and Montoya’s 17th career Cup start. That win solidified Montoya’s reputation as an adaptable racer who is a threat in anything that he drives. He won again in 2010, at Watkins Glen International, to boost his Cup resume.
Montoya is one of a handful of drivers in racing history to find success in multiple major forms of racing. He follows Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti as one of the only drivers to win races in the NASCAR, Indy cars and Formula One. Montoya is the 1999 CART champion and winner of both the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. He has also won Cup events at both of NASCAR’s road courses.