LONG POND, Pa. – Juan Pablo Montoya noticed the Colombian fans waving flags and wildly cheering for him as he zipped toward the checkered flag. Moments after celebrating, Montoya ducked his way through the crowd waiting at Victory Lane and headed toward the grandstands to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
I had to say thanks for coming, he said.
Montoya saved his deepest gratitude for car owner Roger Penske.
Montoya won the IndyCar race Sunday at Pocono Raceway, the highlight of a triumphant return to open-wheel racing after seven years in NASCAR.
Up ahead, a serious run at the IndyCar championship.
I think people know I’m coming, Montoya said.
Montoya won for the first time in the CART/IndyCar Series since 2000 and had his first major victory since he won a road-course race at Watkins Glen in NASCAR in 2010.
Penske’s faith in bringing Montoya aboard was rewarded.
It’s been a long road, a lot harder than people realize, Montoya said.
Helio Castroneves was second to make it a 1-2 finish Sunday for Team Penske. With double points awarded in the 500-mile races, Castroneves moved into a tie for the points lead with Team Penske teammate Will Power.
Team Penske did face some roadblocks that could lead to some interesting conversations at the shop. Power was hit with a blocking penalty on Castroneves late in the race and had to serve a drive through penalty, costing him a shot at racing for the win. He finished 10th.
Carlos Munoz, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon completed the top five.
Montoya, who won from the pole, took the lead for good when Tony Kanaan was forced to pit for fuel with four laps left. Montoya took it from there and continued to stamp himself a player in the championship hunt. He moved to fourth in the standings.
As soon as we signed him, I knew he would be an asset for us, and a headache, Castroneves said.
Montoya, the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500, winner took the checkered flag to the sight of hundreds of Colombian fans cheering him on.
Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his shot at winning the series’ Triple Crown when he was forced out only 28 laps into the race. Pocono and Fontana join the Indianapolis 500 as the three races that use three-wide starts, run 500 miles and award double points.
Hunter-Reay threw his hands up in frustration when he left a car that had a suspension issue.
It just gave up, he said.