Montoya at Michigan with Brickyard on his mind
June 13, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
He's seen how well Team Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams have performed this season. He knows Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, is a high-speed 2-mile track full of possibilities for a driver such as himself.
But can Montoya, who has been out of Cup competition since the end of the 2013 season, be a contender in what will be his first of only two scheduled starts for Team Penske in the No. 12 Ford?
Montoya prefers to dream big.
"This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords," the 38-year-old said Friday prior to opening practice at Michigan, where he placed 37th. "They always excel here and have a car that can win. 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."
Montoya spent seven full seasons in Sprint Cup before leaving Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of 2013, eventually signing to compete in IndyCar for owner Roger Penske. He won twice for Ganassi, at the series' road courses of Sonoma (in 2007) and Watkins Glen (2010). His best year came in 2009 when he tallied 18 top-10s en route to an eighth-place points finish.
To prepare for Michigan, Montoya said he and the team tested. Once. In that test, which took place at Nashville Superspeedway, he said it took him only five laps to get comfortable in the car.
Of greater importance, he said, is how well teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have fared this season. Logano has two wins and sits ninth in points while Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, is fifth and has one win. The Penske cars clearly have speed.
"With the way Team Penske is running here, it's a hell of a chance," Montoya said. "You see Joey’s comments sometimes and he says it was a terrible day and he finished fifth or sixth, so from my history here I would have killed to have a car that would do that."
In 14 career starts at Michigan, Montoya scored three top-10s. He was 11th in his final start at the track last season.
"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," he said. "I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is going to play into my hands a little bit because it's a really fast track. It's a track (where) you don't brake … where you're really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in IndyCar."
His goal, he said is to "take it as it comes."
"But the way to really look at it is good preparation for the Brickyard (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
"Working with Greg Erwin, who is a real experienced crew chief -- he's won races and he knows what it takes to get it done. If we do a good job here understanding what I want out of the car, then going to the Brickyard we might be looking really, really strong. It could be fun."