Juan Pablo Montoya returns to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, running the first of two scheduled races in the No. 12 SKF Ford for Team Penske. The Columbia native said he believes he can be a threat to win this weekend, despite a limited schedule of testing in advance.
“It’s exciting to be back, especially with Team Penske and the SKF Ford," he said. "I only had one day of testing in Nashville before the Indy 500, so it’s been awhile. But in Nashville, it took me about five laps to really get comfortable in the car. The way Team Penske is running here, it’s a hell of a chance. You see Joey’s comments sometimes and he says, `It was a terrible day’ and he finished fifth or sixth. I would have killed to have a car that would do that.
“Our goal here is (to) take it as it comes this weekend, but the way I really look at it is, it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard 400. I’m 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.”
Montoya said it is difficult to compare Team Penske to his former team; calling Chip Ganassi Racing “a very different organization. With Chip we had good years, bad years, good races, bad – we had everything. The way Team Penske is running right now, every week they have a shot at winning. 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.
“With my background in open wheel, coming here is going to play into my hands a little bit,” he said. “It’s a really fast track. It’s a track where you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle. You do that a lot in Indy Car.
“I always run well here and qualify really well here,” said Montoya. “Last year, I think I qualified 10th and sixth 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.”
Montoya said he hopes to contend for the win in both his Sprint Cup Series starts this season, and is focusing on Michigan as “probably one of the best tracks for the Fords. They always excel here and have a car that can win. And with the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, we might have a shot at winning this.
“The Brickyard is (also) a place that I run really well. Even 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.”