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article imageMontoya waves goodbye to NASCAR after seven years

By John Duarte     Sep 17, 2013 in Sports
Charlotte - Juan Pablo Montoya is “really excited” about returning to the open-wheel racing and where it all started for him in North America, in IndyCar.
The affable Colombian will be putting behind him seven years of racing on the NASCAR circuit and joining Team Penske, in the IZOD IndyCar Series, for the 2014 season. Montoya had been looking for a full-time ride since August when Earnhardt Ganassi Racing announced it would not be renewing his contract after the 2013 season.
“If you dream of any ideal position for any driver, driving for Penske would be No. 1,” Montoya said, adding that he was looking for an opportunity to not only compete, but win. “When this opportunity came around, I didn't have to think about it. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Montoya spent two years with Chip Ganassi Racing in the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), where he became the series' youngest-ever champion at 24.
Montoya, who turns 38 on Sept. 20, feels the time is right to join IndyCar racing again. He said conditioning is a big part of racing and is working hard to regaining championship fitness.
“Since the moment I became a free agent, I was looking at open-wheel racing and training really hard,” Montoya said. “I know the conditioning that it takes to be a champion and I'm working to that goal.”
Roger Penske said Montoya is a great addition to his IndyCar team, where he will race alongside Helio Castroneves and Will Power. The team owner said Montoya has “won a lot of races and championships” and alluded to his “extremely passionate” following of fans.
“Juan is a proven winner at all levels of motorsport,” Penske said. “He will be a great addition to Team Penske.”
Despite never accomplishing the success he has enjoyed in open-wheel racing, Montoya said he has no regrets about the time he spent in NASCAR and feels he learned a lot in those seven years.
“I don't feel I wasted my years in NASCAR,” he said. “It made me a lot better driver. I became a lot smarter driver.”
Born in Colombia in 1975, Montoya has a resume filled with racing success. He was International Formula 3000 champion in 1998 and was looking to join WilliamsF1 the following year when team principal Frank Williams reached an agreement with Chip Ganassi to effectively trade Montoya to CART for then two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi.
It didn't take long for Montoya to settle in. He was not only rookie-of-the-year in the series in 1999, he was crowned CART champion. Despite winning the Indianapolis 500 the following year, 2000 was a lackluster season for Montoya and he returned to Europe, joining the Williams Formula 1 team. After four seasons at Williams, Montoya signed with McLaren but was rarely happy with his car, at times commenting that the steering wheel was “not attached” to the rest of the car. His best F1 seasons in F1 were 2002 and 2003 when he placed third overall in the standings.
Montoya returned to North America in 2006 to again race for Chip Ganassi, this time in NASCAR. He only competed in one race in Nextel Cup, the precursor to Sprint Cup, but approached the opportunity with enthusiasm.
“It will be tough to get used to the difference in cars,” Montoya said at the time. “I think I will learn a lot from my teammates and other drivers around me.”
The following year, his first full season in NASCAR, Montoya was crowned 2007 Nextel Cup rookie of the year, which also was the only honour he received while in stock-car racing. His best season in NASCAR was in 2008, when he finished eighth in the Sprint Cup Series.
Another career highlight for Montoya is three wins (2007, 2008 and 2013) at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has announced that 21-year-old phenom Kyle Larson will replace Montoya next season. Larson, a development driver with the Ganassi team, currently races in NASCAR's Nationwide Series.
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