After spending the past seven years competing in the Sprint Cup Series full-time, Juan Pablo Montoya is set to make his first start of the season as well as his debut for Team Penske in the series this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
Montoya is now a full-time competitor in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season but is scheduled to drive the No. 12 Ford for Penske in Sunday's 400- mile Sprint Cup race at Michigan and in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the last weekend in July.
Driving the No. 2 car for Penske, Montoya is currently seventh in the IndyCar point standings (147 points behind leader and teammate Will Power). Montoya finished a season-best third in last Saturday night's IndyCar race at Texas.
"It's really exciting to be back, especially with Team Penske in the SKF [sponsored] Ford," Montoya said of his return to Sprint Cup. "I only had one day of testing in Nashville a little bit before the Indianapolis 500, so it's been a while. In Nashville, I went out and it took me probably five laps to really get comfortable in the car."
On Friday, Montoya placed 37th in opening practice for Sprint Cup at Michigan. His best lap was clocked at 196.603 mph. Kasey Kahne had the fastest lap at 203.332 mph, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won his second race of the season this past Sunday at Pocono.
"Our goal here [at Michigan] is that we'll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way we really look at it, I think, is that it's a really good preparation for the Brickyard," Montoya said. "Working with Greg Erwin, he's a really experienced crew chief. He's won races and knows what it takes to get it done. If we do a good job here and understand what I want out of the car, then going to the Brickyard, we might be looking really strong. And that would be fun."
When Montoya drove for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates/Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2007-13, he made 14 starts at Michigan. His best finish here was sixth, which came in June 2009.
During his Sprint Cup career, Montoya has recorded two wins (Sonoma, California in 2007 and Watkins Glen, New York in 2010.), 24 top-five finishes, 59 top-10s and nine poles in 253 starts. He made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009.
There's one factor that might play into Montoya's hands at Michigan -- speed. The 38-year-old Colombian has become quite used to very high speeds on oval tracks in IndyCar competition, where cars average well over 200 mph.
"With my background right now in open-wheel, coming here is going to play into my hands a little bit, because this is a really fast track," he said. "This is a track where you're using the throttle a lot, and you do that a lot in the Indy cars. I always run well here and qualify really well here. Last year, I qualified sixth and tenth in the Ganassi cars."
At Michigan and Indianapolis, Montoya will team with Joey Logano, who has already won two races this season, and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who has a victory this year as well. Logano won the most recent race at Michigan 10 months ago. His victory here came in his first season as driver of the No. 22 Ford for Penske. The win also helped him get into the Chase for the first time in his career.
"It was huge. It was a big deal for sure," Logano said. "I wanted to win so badly, and I felt we were close a bunch of times before that. I wanted to prove to [team owner] Roger [Penske] and [crew chief] Todd [Gordon] and the guys on the team that they made the right decision in bringing me over here. It also proved to me that I could do it."
Keselowski, who hails from Rochester Hills, Michigan, has yet to win a Sprint Cup race at his home track. His best finish in nine starts here is second, which occurred in August 2012. Keselowski won back-to-back Nationwide races at this 2-mile oval from 2009-10.
"I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things, and that was a Nationwide race, that wasn't a Cup race," Keselowski said. "I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level. I can tell you it wouldn't be like any other win."
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the Quicken Loans 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, June 15. Race: Quicken Loans 400. Site: Michigan International Speedway. Track: 2-mile oval. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 200. Miles: 400. 2013 Winner: Greg Biffle. Television: TNT. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.