Open Wheel Wednesday · Huston Ladner · Wednesday September 18, 2013
It’s no stretch to claim that Juan Pablo Montoya’s NASCAR career will end as a letdown. For a driver with his pedigree and talents, his two victories, both on road courses, seems tantamount to a failure, especially when compared to the driver’s huge success in open-wheel cars. It’s no surprise, then, that Montoya was quickly able to find a home in IndyCar. With that being noted, there are a few things to think about with the former Indy 500 Champion returning to open wheel racing next year.
The obvious aspect that deserves some examination is the fact that Montoya will be racing for Roger Penske. Everyone in the organization benefits. Will Power and Helio Castroneves will have a solid teammate to lean on and from the onset, the team looks like the most formidable one in the series for next year. Sure, Ganassi and Andretti will still be strong, but not quite like the team at Penske.
But where was Ganassi in this move? With (no offense intended) Dario Franchitti getting older, having Montoya become part of the organization may have been a way of invigorating it, even if for a couple of years. It has been reported that Penske signed Montoya without having any sponsorship backing at this time. While that may be a hurdle now, it would seem that it’s an issue that Penske will have resolved by the time the 2014 season begins.
So what are we to make of Ganassi not trying to craft such a deal? It would appear that by being punted from his Cup ride that perhaps Ganassi and Montoya are no longer on good terms. In fact, the relationship may have just taken an ugly turn – and by Montoya joining the arch-rival Penske organization, there would seem to be some bad feelings between the two.
The beneficiaries of all this? The fans. With Montoya jumping to IndyCar, and to Penske, he has pretty much declared that he is in eff-you mode. Many athletes allow anger to get the better of them, making poor decisions and having their emotions overrun any rational thought, while others come out swinging and channel their emotion productively. Montoya seems to be one of those people that actually thrives when angry.
At 37, and with wins on his resume like the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indianapolis 500, Montoya would ostensibly have little left to prove to the racing world. That’s not the reality. Penske now has a driver who is not only hungry to re-establish his name as one of the foremost drivers in the world, but he has a driver who’s looking to stick it to his former employer. With his aggressive driving style, it’s hard to forecast against Montoya racking up some wins. Whether or not he can sustain that drive to a championship is another matter.
Montoya’s move back to open wheel racing might do something else. Even though he might not have succeeded in NASCAR, he still was a presence and a name that people will remember. His foray into IndyCar might not bring millions of fans, but it might bring a few new interested fans. Certainly people will be curious to see if, more at home in open wheel, the highly-touted Montoya can display his talents.
Just for fun, let’s take things a step further. What if he has a banner year and it helps to get the ratings up, even just a little bit? The potential benefits could come in a number of ways. Not only will the increased attention to IndyCar bring in sponsors, but it may help to bring in something else: other engine manufacturers.
One of the curios things about the sport has been its inability to lure anyone other than Honda or Chevrolet. As engines have moved towards being smaller and more efficient, the series stands as a good testing ground for companies like Ford or Toyota. Last year Lotus made an appearance but couldn’t put out a quality product and is nowhere to be found. Ford and Toyota have the resources to make a good run in the sport – and it would bring about natural rivalries.
Currently, there just may not be enough money in the series. That’s the easy argument. There is, however, value. Things that get developed in racing often do make their way to production vehicles, and having more manufacturers benefits everyone. Encouraging new manufacturers to join may be a difficult task but it should be a focus.
So the screwy logic here would be that if Montoya can come in to IndyCar and have a stellar season, it just might help lift the series from the doldrums and instigate interest from other manufacturers. Hmm. That’s a bit much to put on one driver. Think of the flipside – what if Montoya returns to open wheel racing and flops, by wrecking out of half the races and having a pit road temper tantrum where he assaults Ganassi?
Yeah, maybe that is a bit much to put on one driver. But hey, NASCAR’s loss is IndyCar’s gain. If he can live up to some of cache, then that should be enough to make an impact.
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