JULY 10, 2006
Why Montoya has gone to NASCAR
Juan Pablo Montoya has gone to NASCAR next year because he could not get a decent drive in Formula 1 but that will not stop stories about how NASCAR is becoming a threat to Formula 1. The reality is that it remains a national series with very little international interest. Signing Montoya will, in theory, boost interest in the stock car series around the world although much will depend on how he does.
"Juan Pablo Montoya's entry into NASCAR is historic," says NASCAR president Mike Helton. "It encompasses all the things that are important to NASCAR, the things that we've worked very hard to establish. Juan Pablo is someone who touches not only the Hispanic fan base, but also is a driver with an international following. NASCAR has had success with drivers from other racing backgrounds who have come to NASCAR and done well, but to have Juan Pablo say, 'I want to compete here,' is historic."
In fact there is a long list of F1 drivers who have raced in NASCAR, notably in the 1960s and early 1970s when the likes of Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, George Follmer and Dan Gurney were all big names. Others who tried included Bob Bondurant, Jim Clark, Chuck Daigh, Vic Elford, Frank Gardner, Walt Hansgen, David Hobbs, Innes Ireland, Lella Lombardi, Brian Naylor, Jack Oliver, Sam Posey, Pedro Rodriguez, Bob Said, Jo Schlesser, Rolf Stommelen and Bobby Unser.
In modern times only three men have tried: Bobby Rahal in 1984, Danny Sullivan in 1994 and Christian Fittipaldi in 2002-2003.
Fittipaldi struggled and there is no doubt that it will be a major challenge for Montoya to get up to speed in NASCAR. In order to achieve this he is going to compete in both the Nextel Cup and in the Busch Series. This is not unusual but will make him very busy in the months ahead.
"I've seen this guy adapt to cars and adapt to tracks like no other driver I've ever seen," says Ganassi. "I don't have any question that he'll be able to adapt to a Cup car and Busch car. It's not going to be a walk in the park. It's going to be a lot of work over the winter. It's going to be a work in progress in 2007. It's a great challenge. What a better opportunity than to have someone like this in your car and take on that challenge together?"
Montoya says he is excited.
"When people think of moving from Formula 1 to NASCAR, some people think I'm crazy," says Montoya. "I think it's exciting. I think it's a great challenge for my career. Coming here is probably going to be my toughest challenge ever. I think when you go watch the races and follow it you know one weekend you can be up front and the next weekend you can be terrible. You have 36 races and race against really great guys, and I think sometimes people don't know how tough it is out here and how many great drivers are out here. To come here and be part of it and learn is going to be exciting. I think a lot of people are going to build this up and say I'm going to come here and win and do great things. Of course, I want to do that. I think it's going to be a lot tougher than people think."
Montoya says that he had a couple of options in F1 - but obviously they were not very enticing.
"Formula 1 is very exciting cars and technology," says Montoya, "but anyone who watches the races knows it's not the most exciting thing you can watch. How hard is it to pass a car in Formula 1? You pass them and you touch wheels and you're an animal."
"I know there's going to be races we're going to be hanging out in 30th place and you've just got to be happy to bring the car home and happy you can race the next weekend. You might bring the car home fifth or 10th or 15th. You have so many races. If you have a bad race in Formula 1 you've got to wait two or three weeks for another one. Here you have a bad race, the next week you just keep going on and on."
One issue which is important is that the signing of Montoya will help NASCAR as it seeks to make an impact in the Hispanic markets.
Ultimately, however, it will also help to raise the profile of F1 in the United States, particularly if Montoya does well.
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