After seven middling seasons spent in NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya returned to his open-wheel roots for 2014, taking an IndyCar ride with Team Penske.
But Montoya is back in the stock car realm this weekend running a third Penske entry at Michigan International Speedway. It is the first of two Sprint Cup races Montoya will run with his next outing coming in the July 27 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Montoya won twice in 253 Cup starts but never on an oval, with each victory coming on a road course. And it's that blemish that spurs his return to NASCAR.
"For me it's more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here," Montoya said Friday. "This year we've got two really good shots."
Montoya's confidence stems from the speed Penske's Cup teams have shown this season. Full-time drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined for three wins with two occurring on tracks sharing similar characteristics to Michigan.
"The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning," Montoya said. "So if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we'll easily get a top-10. And if I'm really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win."
It is next month's race at Indianapolis that has Montoya, who won the 2000 Indy 500, most excited.
Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Montoya led the most laps in 2009 and then again the following year. But his bid for an oval track NASCAR victory came undone with a pit road speeding penalty (2009) and poor strategy which led to a late crash (2010).
"Our goal is we'll take it as it comes this weekend," Montoya said. "But the way we really look at it is it's really good preparation for the Brickyard. If we do a good job here understanding what I want out of the car, then going to the Brickyard we might be looking really, really strong. It could be fun."
New rules pertaining to the suspension have been enacted since Montoya was last in NASCAR. Those changes have dramatically affected the handling of cars.
To re-acclimate to the nuances of stock-car racing, Montoya recently tested at Nashville Superspeedway. The biggest adjustment was the differentiating speed -- upwards of 30 mph in an IndyCar -- which creates different braking cues.
"The first three laps I missed the corner by a mile," Montoya said. "From history I always know where to brake and I can pretty much tell you every track where you have to lift, so I went there and I braked. And as I started turning in it felt really slow so I got out of the brakes and missed the corner completely."
Although initially off the pace it wasn't long before Montoya was up to speed and running competitive lap times.
"I was within a tenth-and-a-half of the best time they ran at Nashville in eight laps," he said. "I was kind of surprised, so that was good."