LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya felt at home among a throng of his Colombian countrymen and fans in a very unique celebration spot. He detoured from the traditional Victory Lane party straight to the one thrown in his honor in the Pocono Raceway grandstands.
The fans bounced, danced, cheered and unfurled flags for the Colombian driver who wouldn't make them wait long this season to celebrate a victory. Montoya zipped toward the checkered flag to the sight of hundreds of Colombian fans waving the flag and cheering him on. His win in the IndyCar race Sunday at Pocono Raceway was the highlight of a triumphant return to open-wheel racing after seven years in NASCAR.
Up ahead, a serious run at the IndyCar championship.
"I think people know I'm coming," Montoya said.
Montoya saved his deepest gratitude for car owner Roger Penske. Penske's faith in bringing the talented and tempestuous Montoya aboard was rewarded.
"I knew it was going to take a little bit of time," Montoya said, "but having the opportunity to run for Roger, it's unbelievable. I've worked really hard physically and mentally to get here, and I feel in a really good place right now. I'm really happy.
Montoya won for the first time in the CART/IndyCar Series since 2000 and had his first major victory since he won a road-course race at Watkins Glen in NASCAR in 2010.
Helio Castroneves was second to make it a 1-2 finish Sunday for Team Penske. With double points awarded in the 500-mile races, Castroneves moved into a tie for the points lead with Penske teammate Will Power.
Carlos Munoz, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon completed the top five.
Montoya, who won from the pole, took the lead for good when Tony Kanaan was forced to pit for fuel with four laps left. Montoya took it from there and continued to stamp himself a player in the championship hunt. He moved to fourth in the standings.
"As soon as we signed him, I knew he would be an asset for us, and a headache," Castroneves said.
Montoya damaged his front wing when he connected with Power on a pass for the lead on the 167th lap. Power's penalty troubles continued at Pocono when he blocked Castroneves on the 171st lap and had to serve a drive through penalty, effectively ending his shot at victory.
"You tell them, 'Let's keep each other on the track,'" Penske said. "But that was a little tight right there."
After only two top 10s in his first seven starts, Montoya reeled off a third, second and seventh in his past three. Now, he has the win needed to erase any lingering doubts that has move back to open wheel was the right one.
Here are 5 things to know from the IndyCar race at Pocono:
POWER PENALTY: Power's latest penalty cost him a shot at racing for the win — and his spot alone atop the points standings. Even worse, his ill-timed block almost derailed a podium finish for Penske teammate Castroneves. Power was hit with a blocking penalty on Castroneves late in the race and his drive through penalty cost him a shot at racing for the win. He finished 10th. Power said he tried to let Castroneves go and had no intention of blocking him. He unleashed a profanity over the radio toward IndyCar and was told to cool down by Penske president Tim Cindric. "That's not doing us any good now, is it? Get your head on straight and go," he said. Power has been smacked with a rash of penalties this season that have cost him strong runs at the checkered flag. He was annoyed when he had to watch the replay after the race for NBC Sports. "It was another penalty and other drive through and another really good opportunity lost," Power said. "Time after time it happens to me and no penalty."
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