- Associated Press - Sunday, May 24, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — His career at a crossroads, his confidence shot, Juan Pablo Montoya received a lifeline from The Captain.

Roger Penske called the driver in late 2013, when Montoya found himself without a job after seven frustrating seasons in NASCAR had turned one of the baddest drivers on the planet into a struggling also-ran.

The catch? Penske’s offer was a return to Indy cars, which Montoya had left behind years ago. The Colombian jumped at the opportunity and cashed in on Sunday with his second Indianapolis 500 victory.

The first one was 15 years ago and a stepping stone to Formula One.

The second one came for a 39-year-old man who proved JPM is back.

In a moment of sincerity following his win, flanked by Team Penske president Tim Cindric, Montoya briefly suggested how much this one meant to him.

“I’m glad I am proving them right, that they made the right choice,” he said, pausing and lowering his eyes. “I’m loving racing right now.”

Oh, that was evident for two weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Montoya confidently boasted to his three teammates that he’d win the race.
On Sunday, he twice drove from the back of the field and fearlessly charged into the final few laps as the leader in a race where few wanted to be out front with the checkered flag looming, and held off teammate Will Power.

That first victory was easy, he’s always said, and when a driver leads 167 of the 200 laps, it clearly was a relaxed drive.

Win No. 2 was a battle from the very beginning. Montoya started 15th but an accident on the first lap brought out the caution, and Montoya was hit from behind by Simona de Silvestro under yellow. He had to pit to repair the damage and restarted 30th.

After working his way back through the field, he was penalized for running over his air hose during a pit stop — and again was sent deep into the pack.

Montoya coming from all the way in the back — I’ll tell you, you give that guy the bit and put it in his mouth … he doesn’t give up,” Penske said.

His victory gave Penske a 16th Indianapolis 500 win and his first since Helio Castroneves took the title in 2009. Penske also joined Chip Ganassi as the only owners to win the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. Ganassi did it in 2010; Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 for Penske in February.

The 15 years between Indianapolis 500 victories are a record for a driver, surpassing A.J. Foyt, who needed 10 years between his third and fourth wins. That first win for Montoya? It came when he drove for Ganassi.

This victory was almost certainly going to go to a Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing driver. With a combined nine cars in the field, the two owners showed over the last two weeks that their organizations are head-and-shoulders above the competition and that Indianapolis is their own personal playground.

Penske and Ganassi drivers led the majority of the laps on Sunday — 193 of the 200 — and turned the final restart with 15 laps to go into a three-car thriller between Penske teammates Montoya and Power, and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon.

Power finished second and Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball was third, ahead of teammate Dixon. The two team owners embraced on pit road as Montoya headed to grab his bottle of milk. Later, as Montoya began the traditional victory lap around the 2.5-mile track in a convertible, Ganassi stopped the car to give Montoya a hug, smile and thumbs up.

Montoya got that last run and maybe I was a bit nice to him into [turn] one and lifted,” Power said. “That was some serious racing there, a lot of fun.”

Chevrolet took the top four spots and eight of 10. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti finished fifth and sixth to represent Honda, which grossly underperformed the entire month in the speedway debut of the new aerokits.

The body work designs by the two manufacturers have been under scrutiny since three cars — all Chevrolets — went airborne during practice last week. With a genuine concern about cars taking flight lingering over the race, IndyCar wasn’t sure that a quick fix a week ago had truly solved the problem. But, the race had no issues aside from typical racing accidents.

Montoya, sometimes a surly and scowling veteran, grinned ear-to-ear as he reveled in his return to relevance. He’s the IndyCar Series points leader and now has two wins this season. He led just nine total laps — far fewer than the race-high 84 by pole-sitter Dixon — but he only had to be out front for the one that mattered.

“This is what racing in IndyCar is all about — awesome racing all the way down to the wire,” said Montoya, who won just two Sprint Cup Series races in seven seasons driving for Ganassi in NASCAR.

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