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No matter where he’ll be next season, Juan Pablo Montoya went out strong in 2016

After a great season in 2015, earning two wins and five podiums, as well as leading the standings the entire campaign until Scott Dixon won the season finale and championship, Juan Pablo Montoya was hoping for more of the same in 2016.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, as the Colombian driver finished tied for eighth with Charlie Kimball in this year’s final standings. He won just one race and reached the podium just three times.

But at least the third podium came in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Even with all the struggles Montoya and his team had this season, if he couldn’t go out a winner, he wanted to go out as strong as he could.

And indeed he did so with his third-place finish in Sunday’s event, tying his second-best finish of the year (was also third at Belle Isle 1) after his win in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

“The first part of the season was really good and then we just couldn’t get a break,” Montoya said after Sunday’s race. “Every time we ran good, we’d go for a long run and the caution would come out, or the engine would break or I’d make a couple mistakes or we’d fumble in the pits. We win together and we’re in this together.”

Montoya ended up with Sunday’s top-3, as well as two other top-10s in his final four races of 2016, which certainly lends itself towards optimism going forward.

Now, Montoya – who turns 41 on Tuesday – puts 2016 in his rearview mirror and plans for 2017. The biggest question is where he’ll wind up.

Numerous reports have him leaving Team Penske, with several fellow IndyCar teams reportedly interested in acquiring his services.

Other reports have Montoya remaining with Team Penske in the IndyCar Series, or potentially shifting to a full-time ride for team owner Roger Penske in the sports car world - if Penske was to restart a program. Team Penske has not been active full-time in sports car racing since 2008, with the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 program.

When asked after Sunday’s race whether he had raced his last IndyCar event under the Penske banner, Montoya was coy in his response.

“I don’t know,” he said with a feigned expression of surprise on his face. “Our hum by Verizon car today was pretty good. We got a podium and a good finish and we’ll see.

“Next year, I don’t know. There’s still a possibility to be here. I really want to be in IndyCar and we’ll see what happens.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski