CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With a chance to start over and maybe drive in any series he wanted, Juan Pablo Montoya thought long and hard about what mattered most at this stage of his career.
The answer was simple: Winning.
So when a team owner synonymous with winning put an offer in front of him, Montoya snapped at the opportunity. He’ll leave NASCAR behind for a return to open-wheel to drive for Roger Penske – the IndyCar Series rival of Montoya’s longtime boss, Chip Ganassi.
He’s very excited for me, Montoya said Monday after texting with Ganassi, who is in Europe. Something that we have with Chip is that we’re very good friends. We have a lot of respect for each other. He had to make a decision this year to go in a different direction. I had to do the same thing. I had an opportunity and a great chance with Penske. We’re going to be competitors and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Ganassi decided in August not to bring Montoya back next year to his NASCAR program. It put the Colombian on the free agent market, and even though Ganassi has said he’d not ruled out using Montoya in his other programs, Montoya considered everything.
He spoke with Michael Andretti about an IndyCar ride, and Furniture Row Racing about replacing Kurt Busch at the end of the NASCAR season. There were calls to Europe, and a new rumor about a possible test with Lotus in Formula One.
Then came discussions with Penske and all bets were off with the other teams. Montoya will team next season with current IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves and Will Power while driving for Penske, winner of 15 Indianapolis 500s. He could also drive in some NASCAR races as part of the deal.
My No. 1 choice was going to be in a winning car. I really wanted to be in a winning car, he said. It came down to I wanted to race for Roger. In a way it’s always been one of my dreams to be able to be part of his organization. Being here, it’s unbelievable. I’m so excited. I’m like a 5-year-old kid right now.
Some could also consider the move a big piece of gamesmanship in the racing rivalry that spans two series between Ganassi and Penske.
Castroneves and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon are locked in a fierce battle for the title, and the competition has heated up over the last two races as Dixon has been involved in incidents with Power and the Penske organization.
He’s a great driver and deserves a great drive, Ganassi told The Associated Press. He will have that there at Penske Racing.
Montoya won the 1999 CART title, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and 11 races driving open-wheel for Ganassi. He then moved to Formula One, where he had seven wins and 30 podiums, before reuniting with Ganassi again in 2006 to compete in NASCAR.
But results in NASCAR have been sporadic. Montoya has just two wins in 244 career starts and his best season finish was eighth in 2009. He’s 20th in the standings this season.