Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t completely finished with NASCAR just yet.
Sure, the Colombian native and former Formula One star has returned full-time this year to the Verizon IndyCar Series, where on Sunday, he’ll try to give his new car owner Roger Penske his 16th Indianapolis 500 victory.
And even though he’s changed series, Montoya is still the same personality he was in NASCAR, by turns funny, carefree, blunt, profane and ultimately tremendously engaging. He’s 15 pounds lighter, but other than that, what you see from Montoya is what you get.
In 253 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, all with Chip Ganassi, Montoya earned two road course victories and a total of 24 top-five and 59 top-10 finishes.
This summer, Penske will put Montoya back behind the wheel of a stock car for two races, the first at Michigan International Speedway on June 15 and then at the July 27 running of the Brickyard 400.
During a luncheon with a handful of reporters Tuesday at the trendy Charlotte Asian restaurant Enso, Montoya said he’s having a lot more fun in IndyCar than he did in NASCAR.
"I don’t want to disrespect NASCAR or anything because I mean they do have a really good show and people like it, you know what I mean?" said Montoya. "NASCAR racing is a lot of fun, but everything is so different — the pace of the race, the intensity. What you get on a green-white-checker (finish) you get in an IndyCar race from beginning to end. You’ve got to drive it like it’s a green-white-checker every freaking lap."
That said, Montoya is definitely looking forward to his two upcoming NASCAR races, especially with as well as the Team Penske Ford Sprint Cup cars are running right now.
"When he (Penske) mentioned it to me, with the cars they’ve got right now, it was a no-brainer," said Montoya. "It’s a great opportunity I have to be in really competitive cars."
Interestingly, for all of Penske’s successes in the Indy 500, the car owner has zero victories in the Brickyard 400. Montoya would very much like to change it.
"He hasn’t won the Brickyard," Montoya said of Penske. "And I’m pretty good there."
Indeed he is. Montoya led 116 of 160 laps in the 2009 Brickyard 400, where he busted for speeding on pit road and finished 11th. The following year he led 86 laps but crashed.
Winning in a stock car at Indy would be a huge shot of redemption for Montoya after his near-misses.
"It would be very special," Montoya said. "Because we threw away a lot of them. We were really good at that. Yeah, honestly, it was, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ It was kind of always like that."
As for Michigan International Speedway, Montoya loves the speed at that 2-mile track.
"I think Michigan is going to be fun, because Michigan requires a lot of cojones," he said.
Montoya said driving for Penske has been an extremely positive experience so far.
"For me, the change is really good," said Montoya. "I don’t really want to start comparing teams or anything, but the way things are handled here, it’s awesome. … When you step back and look at all the history and everything that I’ve done, to say that I’ve raced for Roger Penske? That’s a freakin’ honor."