BROOKLYN, Mich. – No matter what kind of car he’s in next year, Juan Pablo Montoya is eager to start winning again.
That was the message the 37-year-old driver repeated throughout a brief session with reporters Friday at Michigan International Speedway. Montoya won’t be back with longtime team owner Chip Ganassi for an eighth NASCAR season, and the Colombian driver’s future is very much up in the air.
Montoya wasn’t tipping his hand Friday.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people – put it that way,” he said. “I don’t want to be specific about anybody. I know some people are interested.”
Montoya’s goal is pretty simple.
“The only thing I said already is, I want to be in a winning car,” he said. “Don’t know what I’m going to do, but I want to make sure I’m in a winning car.”
Montoya is one of the world’s most decorated drivers, with an Indianapolis 500 victory and wins in Formula One, NASCAR and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. But his results in NASCAR have been underwhelming. He has two wins in 239 career starts, and his best season finish was eighth in 2009.
Montoya’s latest stint with Ganassi began in 2006, when he left Formula One for NASCAR. They also teamed up to win the 1999 CART championship and 2000 Indianapolis 500 before Montoya moved to F1.
When asked if he could work with Ganassi in IndyCar or Grand-Am, Montoya left that door open.
“It could be with Chip, could be with somebody else,” he said. “With Chip, something we said is, No. 1, make sure we keep our friendship. We are really good friends, we have a good relationship.”
However, Montoya acknowledged that a change could help both parties.
“We’ve been together for 7 years. We had our ups, we had our downs. I think if we kept going and the results don’t come, we end up hating each other,” he said. “We’re really good friends. We respect each other as boss and driver, and as friends as well.”
Montoya is the only non-white Sprint Cup driver, and he helped expand NASCAR’s popularity outside the United States, but it’s not clear if he’ll be involved at all in NASCAR in the immediate future. He said he’s talked with other NASCAR owners this year, but he wanted to make sure he had the option of staying at Ganassi if possible.
There aren’t many good open seats available on the Cup circuit, and Montoya could be forced to look at sports car racing, a return to open wheel, or maybe even a European series.
He was perhaps most vague when asked about possibly going to the IndyCar series.
“I was committed to NASCAR. When you’re committed to NASCAR, you want to make sure your head is in NASCAR,” Montoya said. “My heart has always been in open wheel, I had a lot of fun in NASCAR. We’ll see.”
It’s not clear who will replace Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet next season. Kurt Busch, who drives for single-car team Furniture Row Racing, could be a candidate.
“I know Chip real well, and the whole gang,” Busch said. “They came up with that decision not based off any of the talks that I’ve had with them, but it is a potential opportunity, that’s for sure.”
Montoya’s departure from Ganassi’s NASCAR team surprised some drivers.
“Juan has been with Ganassi for so long that it did catch me off guard,” Jimmie Johnson said. “I’m used to seeing Ganassi winning races and running up front through the open-wheel world, and I would imagine there would be a shake-up at Ganassi through the offseason. ... So yes, shocked. But the more I think about it, I feel like there was some change coming there.”