By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
October 6, 2006
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- Maybe these
stock cars won't be so hard for Juan Pablo Montoya, after
The Formula One defector completed
an impressive stock car racing debut Friday night,
overcoming an early accident to finish third in the ARCA
race at Talladega Superspeedway.
"I never had so much fun in my
life," Montoya said. "It's freaky. You are always on the
edge, but it was fun."
The race was called because of darkness 14 laps from the
finish, interrupting a debate Montoya was having with his
Chip Ganassi Racing team on whether or not he should try to
run down Frank Kimmel and Steve Wallace for the win.
Asked afterward what he thought
about his new driver's first race, Ganassi was blunt.
"I thought the race stopped a
little short for me," the car owner said.
But other than that?
"It was mission accomplished, it
what was what we came here to do and more," Ganassi said.
"He went to the back, he came back to the front. My biggest
nightmare was that he would end up leading every lap here
And it looked early like he might.
Montoya started second, but worked
his No. 4 Dodge around pole sitter Bobby Gerhart on the
backstretch of the first lap. The Colombian stayed there for
nine trips around the 2.66-mile Superspeedway before Gerhart
reclaimed the lead and took a pack of traffic with him past
"For a rookie he did pretty good,"
said Kimmel, the winner. "You knew he would come in here and
do well. I think it bodes well for the ARCA series that he
didn't come in here and dominate."
Montoya was pushed back to third
after the pass, then settled into the traffic to experience
drafting. Although his car was clearly superior to almost
everyone else in the field, his team told him to stay put in
the pack and resist the urge to power to the front.
It should have been smooth sailing
from there, but a spinning Bryan Silas slammed directly into
his right side to cause some serious damage 36 laps in.
Montoya used a fantastic save to keep his own car from
spinning out of control, and headed to the pits for some
He'd been in the top 10 before the
accident, but was 36th after.
From there it was a lesson on
working his way through traffic and figuring out who to team
"Do you want me to work with 31?"
"He's a lap down," spotter Lorin
"Oh good, he can help us then,"
His Ganassi team used the race to
help Montoya learn the lingo of NASCAR, which is very
simplistic compared to the high-tech world of F1.
"Go ahead and give it a little
air," crew chief Brad Parrott instructed Montoya at one
"That means put your nose out there
if you can," Ranier quickly explained.
"Not at the moment," Montoya
replied as he drafted through the traffic. "A little busy
For Ganassi, who won the 2000
Indianapolis 500 with Montoya, it was like a flashback to
six years ago and the last time the two teamed together.
"He was just like I remembered,"
Ganassi said. "He can be funny. He's smart. And he's all
Montoya didn't hesitate to mix it
up with the other drivers, including a series of bump drafts
on Wallace, the 19-year-old son of former NASCAR champion
Rusty Wallace, who was making his own Superspeedway debut.
Wallace was thrilled with the
"He's Juan Montoya. He's from
Formula One," he delighted. "It was definitely fun to race
with one of the best drivers in the world, in the ARCA
Series, in of all places Talladega, Alabama."
Montoya seemed disenchanted at the
end of his F1 career by the politically charged series that
often doesn't emphasize the racing. But after passing what
he estimated to be 40 cars -- more than he passed in all
five years of F1 -- he said his passion for racing had
"What a great experience -- I
haven't had this much fun in a race in a long time," he