2014 Indy 500: After lengthy absence, Juan Pablo Montoya returns to Indy 500

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Fourteen years after winning, a happy and confident Juan Pablo Montoya is back racing in the Indianapolis 500.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The last time Juan Pablo Montoya turned a lap in competition around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, his day ended with a celebration in Victory Lane following a dominating performance.

You would think this would make Montoya one of the prohibitive favorites to win Sunday's Indianapolis 500. There is a catch, though: That victory came 14 years ago, and in the time since, Montoya has run almost extensively in Formula One and NASCAR, only returning to IndyCar at the beginning of this season.

"When I went to Cup it was hard because it was something I'd never done. After a while, it's whatever the car will give you. I don't want to even really talk about it too much. It is what it is."-Juan Pablo Montoya

Not surprisingly, Montoya has quickly re-acclimated himself to the nuances of getting an Indy car around the Indianapolis oval. He has consistently been near the top of the scoring chart in practice, though he did slip a bit in qualifying and will start 10th Sunday.

"One of the cool things about being with Team Penske, they do such a good job with the cars," Montoya said. "The experience here is so good. They really know what they're doing. It makes it so easy for us, it really does."

Besides innate ability, talent which has produced victories in three world-class disciplines -- F1, IndyCar and NASCAR -- Montoya also enjoys the benefit of never really having stopped racing Indianapolis.

After leaving American open-wheel racing, Montoya went to F1 for six years, which visited the road course portion of Indianapolis once a season. And this was also true when Montoya was in NASCAR, which utilized the oval for its annual Brickyard 400 every summer.

Montoya believes that familiarity will prove beneficial Sunday.

"I think my time on the road course and my NASCAR experience will help my timing and (finding the right line)," he said. "It's all about putting yourself in a good situation and understanding where you want to be. I think it's going to be more about people making mistakes then you passing them. If you understand and handle the situation correctly you will be OK."

Avoiding mistakes was an issue Montoya often struggled with during seven up-and-down seasons in NASCAR.

Although the native of Colombia won twice along with earning a 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup berth, he also never found the consistency for success. In six of seven years, Montoya finished 17th or worse in the point standings. That irregularity caused team owner Chip Ganassi to not renew Montoya's contract at the end of last season.

"When I went to Cup it was hard because it was something I'd never done," Montoya said. "After a while, it's whatever the car will give you. It's kind of hard because you go one year, you make the Chase, and the next year we as a team we went backwards and you finish 25th in the championship. It's like, ‘What happened?' It's what you got.

"It's really close racing. I don't want to even really talk about it too much. It is what it is."

Having signed with Ganassi's open-wheel rival, Team Penske, Montoya seems to have found his swagger now back in the series where he had his greatest success. Gradually, through every practice and four IndyCar races this season, his level of comfort has increased.

While stating he is as confident at Indianapolis as he was in 2000, Montoya hedges when asked if he should be considered a favorite, citing his lack of time in an Indy car.

But if Montoya won't label himself a strong challenger for the victory Sunday, his competitors have no problem bestowing that status on him.

"I would put him right up there," teammate Helio Castroneves said, himself a three-time Indy 500 winner. "He doesn't need any more time to become better. And when he has more time, he'll be more trouble."

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