Juan Pablo Montoya got a warm welcome on his return to Bristol Motor Speedway, even if it was just to announce his sponsor for the upcoming Indianapolis 500.
Montoya will compete for Team Penske in the May spectacle with Fitzgerald Glider Kits as his sponsor, the same company that holds the entitlement for Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol.
But when asked about his first trio around BMS in a stock car, Montoya waxed nostalgic.
“I love this place,” Montoya told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Because for me, the biggest problem I had with a stock car was it had no grip. Here, with the banking, it made up a lot of grip. I always ran really well here. This was a fun place for me.”
Asked whether the relationship with Penske and Fitzgerald Glider Kits might lead to a return to NASCAR racing in a one-off situation, Montoya shrugged and smiled.
“I don’t know,” he said. “They tell me go here, I go there. I mean they say, ‘Jump,’ I say ‘How high?’”
In general, however, Montoya thinks cross-pollination between racing series is a good thing. In the Indy 500 he’ll compete against Fernando Alonso, a rival in Formula One from 2001 through 2006.
“I think it would be nice for motorsports to do a little more of that, because it’s just going to create a little more interest overall,” said Montoya, who doesn’t have a full-time IndyCar ride this season. “It is something that it would be nice to see all motorsports to be able to see top drivers jump from one to the other just for one race.
“I was lucky enough to be in all the top series in the world, and being able to win in all of them and everything. I’ve been very blessed in that point of view.”
Montoya, however, wasn’t immune from some good-natured ribbing that also recalled his NASCAR days. Fitzgerald Glider Kits founder Tom Fitzgerald Sr. introduced Montoya as “Mr. Jet Dryer,” a reference to the driver’s fiery collision with track-drying equipment under caution during the 2012 Daytona 500.
“I wasn’t going to do that,” quipped Fitzgerald, “but I couldn’t resist.”
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez posted the fastest speeds in Happy Hour, running laps at 128.563 mph and 128.262 mph, respectively. The Hendrick Motorsports entries of Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson were third, fourth and fifth. Kahne had the fastest 10-lap average at 127.482 mph…
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clipped the outside wall during Saturday’s first practice and did enough damage to the right rear that the team considered going to a backup car before opting to fix the primary No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. In the repaired car, Stenhouse was 30th fastest in final practice. “I had just been really loose and just got down in the corner, and it took off,” Stenhouse said of the accident. “I thought I saved it and just got the right rear in the wall.”