If only for a weekend, Montoya happy to be back in NASCAR

Juan Pablo Montoya will drive the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan this Sunday.

Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images

Juan Pablo Montoya is back in NASCAR.

For this weekend, anyway.

Following the 2013 season, the former CART and Formula One star abandoned NASCAR after seven frankly somewhat disappointing seasons. Montoya is now racing full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series for Roger Penske. As part of the deal, Penske is campaigning a third Sprint Cup car for Montoya this week at Michigan International Speedway and again in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month.

In 253 previous Cup starts, Montoya scored just two race victories, both on road courses, and posted 24 top-five and 59 top-10 finishes. That said, the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have won three races already this season and Montoya thinks he has  legitimate shot of adding to those numbers this weekend at MIS.

"For me it’s more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here (in NASCAR)," said Montoya, a native of Bogota, Colombia. "This year we’ve got two really good shots. This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords.  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."

Fast Friday: Kevin Harvick captures the pole for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan

The big prize, of course, is the Brickyard 400 in late July. As a team owner, Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 a record 15 times, but he’s winless in the Brickyard 400. Montoya would love to change that.

"Going to the Brickyard is a place that I run really well," said Montoya. "When we ran bad we were always in the top 10, so going there in a car like this you’re definitely looking at a shot at a win as well."

With 45 cars entered in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400, Montoya had to qualify on speed to get in the field.  He successfully made it in and will start 28th.

And, of course, there was a little added dramatic storyline to Montoya’s weekend: When he was full-time in Sprint Cup, he drove for Chip Ganassi, Penske’s biggest rival in IndyCar racing. The chance for Montoya to hop in a Penske Ford and outrun Ganassi’s cars is intriguing for the driver.

"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. 

"I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is gonna play into my hands a little bit because it’s a really fast track," said Montoya. "It’s a track you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in Indy Car.  I always run well here and qualified really well here.  Last year I think I qualified 10th and sixth last year in the Ganassi car, so coming here is really exciting. Roger gave me the opportunity to come here and we want to make SKF and the Ford group proud of what we can do."