INDIANAPOLIS – out front.
A year after a late speeding penalty denied him a victory at the Brickyard, he's hoping it sticks this time.
Montoya has steadfastly denied any lingering bitterness from last year's near-miss, or any notion that the Brickyard owes him one. Instead, the pole-sitter for Sunday's race is treating this visit as an entirely new opportunity.
"It's given me a lot, so I don't complain," said Montoya, who won the Indianapolis 500 for team owner Chip Ganassi in 2000.
So far this weekend, he's had little to gripe about.
His No. 42 Chevrolet was the fastest of 13 cars at an April tire test here, and Montoya paced both of Friday's practice sessions. Then he turned a lap at 182.278 mph on Saturday morning to take the top starting spot at the Brickyard.
Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who won his third Brickyard last season in part because of Montoya's gaffe, qualified second with a lap at 182.142. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin qualified third and was followed by Jamie McMurray, Montoya's teammate, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer, as Chevrolets took the top six qualifying spots.
Greg Biffle was the highest qualifying Ford at seventh, Brad Keselowski was the best Dodge at 11th and Martin Truex Jr. led the Toyota effort at 12th.
Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve, like Montoya also an Indianapolis 500 winner, qualified for his first Sprint Cup race since 2007 and will start last in the 43-car field. Four drivers failed to make the race: David Gilliland, Casey Mears — nephew of four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears — David Stremme and J.J. Yeley.
Attention will likely be on Montoya, who has already had a busy week. His wife, Connie, on Monday gave birth to the couple's third child, a daughter named Manuela, and Thursday was a trip to the emergency room for middle child Paulina.
"Her brother practiced his golf swing on her head," Montoya said with raised eyebrows.
So getting on track provided some relief from the madness, even though this weekend comes with raised expectations.
He led 116 laps last year in a bid to become the only driver to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR races at the Brickyard, only to be flagged for speeding on the final pit stop to drop to an 11th-place finish. Everyone expected a strong effort in his return, based solely on the assumption the No. 42 team wants to grab the victory it was denied last year.
But Johnson bristled Saturday at the suggestion that Montoya had the field covered last year.
"I think we were the best car last year," the winner argued. "I think Juan and the team did a great job getting up front and were in clean air. Yes, Juan was fast in clean air, but when he got mired in traffic, he couldn't go anywhere. Not taking a shot at Juan, but I'm really proud of what we did last year."
Montoya, of course, disagreed.
"If you think about it, I remember (Martin) nearly passed him with two laps to go," Montoya said. "So (Johnson) definitely didn't have the superior car. I think I had the superior car; I think (Martin) was the second fastest car. (Johnson) probably had the third or fourth fastest car.
"He just had a good restart and that's it."
The back-and-forth set the stage for what should be a decent show Sunday at one of the most storied tracks in all of automobile racing. Montoya will be trying to give car owner Ganassi a rare "three-peat" in that he already this season won the Daytona 500 with McMurray and the Indianapolis 500 with Dario Franchitti.
Ganassi wants the sweep, but was cautiously optimistic.
"To be honest with you, if we weren't up near the front (in qualifying), I would have been pretty disappointed because we were up there during the test and in the practice session," Ganassi said. "So we'll see what happens. You know, it's a long day and we have a lot of things we have to do yet. This is just one step in a long flight of steep stairs for the weekend."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects 8th graf to Biffle qualifying 7th.)