It is not unexpected to see Juan Pablo Montoya returning to IndyCar.
No, the surprising twist is that Montoya will not be doing so as a member of Chip Ganassi Racing, but instead has signed to drive a third car for Ganassi's open-wheel rival, Roger Penske. It is at Penske Racing where Montoya will join Will Power and current Izod IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves to form a three-car car team for the 2014 season.
"I said from my first media availability when I became a free agent, I want a winning car" Montoya said during a teleconference. "And they don't come any better than Penske Racing."
Montoya is returning to IndyCar after seven largely unproductive seasons spent in NASCAR.
In 244 starts in the Cup Series he had scored just two victories -- both on road courses -- and had finished better than 17th in the year end standings just once. And with Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch filling high-profile Cup rides in recent weeks, Montoya's options to stay in NASCAR with a competitive organization were limited -- though he had conversations with Furniture Row Racing about replacing Busch.
Which is why when it was announced last month that he would not be returning to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing next season, it was logical to think Montoya would either return to open-wheel racing or compete in sports cars full-time.
Montoya seemed to most interest in returning to his IndyCar roots where he won a CART championship in 1999 and the next year gave Ganassi his first victory in the Indianapolis 500. In recent weeks Michael Andretti expressed interest in signing Montoya and had put together 50 percent of the necessary funding.
However, the opportunity to drive for Penske was too much for Montoya to pass up.
"It came down to wanting to race for Roger," he said. "In a way, it's always been one of my dreams to be able to be part of this organization. And being here, it's unbelievable. I'm just so excited, I can't believe it. I'm like a five‑year‑old kid right now."
With a diverse background that also includes six years in Formula One, Penske believes Montoya will improve an IndyCar team that has underachieved recently. Although there is no sponsorship in place, Penske is prepared to self-fund a third if necessary.
"It really comes down to Roger's commitment to the sport and Roger's commitment to winning," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "The approach that we have taken, really, is let's put the competitive piece in play first, and then hopefully we can sort the rest of it out.
"I guess that's one of the advantages we all have for working for Roger is his commitment to winning comes before everything else."
The impetus behind Monday's stunning news was from a conversation Penske and Montoya first had while standing on the grid for the August NASCAR race at Michigan. It was then Penske asked him about his future plans and inquired if he would be interested in IndyCar.
If there is a qualm in the Montoya/Penske pairing it would be the long ties Montoya has with Ganassi. As through the years the two have spoken fondly of one another and the idea of Montoya going to a rival team might fracture the friendship.
But wanting to winning and needing to do what is best for his career Montoya has committed to Penske.
"I feel like he was very excited for me," Montoya said. "Something that we have with Chip is that we are very good friends. We have a lot of respect for each other.
"As he had to make a decision this year to go a different direction, I had to do the same thing. And I have a great opportunity and a great chance with Penske, and you know, we are going to be competitors and I'm looking forward to the challenge."