Racing beat

| November 30, 2006

Juan Pablo Montoya pulls out of his garage stall and heads for the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

New Formula
Juan Pablo Montoya is now officially a stock car driver.

Montoya, the former Formula One standout, made his competitive debut last October in an ARCA race at Talladega, finishing third.

This season, he’ll be a NASCAR Nextel Cup rookie, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

It was a whirlwind start to NASCAR’s first international “hire.”

“It was fun, but it was freaky,” says Montoya, whose resume will now say “First Stock Car Race: The ARCA Food World 250.” “Initially I started out just trying to get comfortable, and then I was in the middle of the pack, and I kept thinking, ‘Watch out, watch out, watch out.’

“We moved a little, dropped back, then pushed and pushed to the front. This was the most fun I’ve had racing in a long time.”

Montoya’s car was damaged in an early mishap, but it didn’t seem to prevent him from challenging all comers.

“If the race had kept going, I was going to go for it at the end,” Montoya says. “But it was a great day.”

The race ended due to diminishing light, giving Rank Kimmel the victory.

Still, Montoya’s ability to make himself at home in a stock car series was impressive.

“He did OK for a rookie,” Kimmel says with a smile. “No, you knew he was going to do well, but it bodes well for this series that he didn’t completely dominate.”

In many ways, Montoya’s story is a true-life version of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

But it certainly isn’t played for laughs.

The summer movie focused on a good ol’ boy stock car driver being challenged by a Formula One sensation.

Just a few months later along comes a Formula One great encroaching on the stock car world.

“The car is working really good, and the guys back at the shop did a great job,” says Montoya, who got a feel for stock car racing the week prior to his ARCA start. “I wanted to prepare for next year and learn the draft. I’ll probably make a few mistakes and get knocked out of line, but that’s part of it.”

Montoya, driving a Dodge, spent much of his first morning drafting with the rest of the field. He had been held back from participation due to his Formula One contract but was finally cleared in early October.

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