ANDY CAGLE: Moving Over: Montoya Sure Thing, Patrick Still Just Talk
Drivers from Formula 1 -- 1.
Drivers from IRL -- 0.
Last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, Chip Ganassi announced that Juan Pablo Montoya will be driving his No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge in 2007, taking over for Casey Mears, who is bolting for Hendrick Motorsports to fill the spot vacated by Brian Vickers (complicated, ain't it?).
Montoya has spent the last four-plus seasons racing Formula 1, joining the McLaren-Mercedes team this year. Previously, he had been with the Williams BMW team.
His current, or I should say now former team, sped up his NASCAR timetable Tuesday, telling him that he could go ahead and start his stock car career in 2006 by releasing him from his contract.
Where Toyota put the cadre of NASCAR owners and manufacturers on notice, Montoya is putting NASCAR drivers on notice.
Montoya to NASCAR is huge and has to be one of the smarter things that Ganassi has done as a NASCAR owner. Montoya has a tremendous racing resume, including the 1999 Champ Car Championship and 2000 Indianapolis 500 while racing for Ganassi.
He has won seven Formula 1 races, that, like it or not, NASCAR fans, is the toughest, most competitive form of racing in the world.
In addition to his racing credentials, Montoya has another upside for Ganassi and NASCAR -- he brings with him a huge fan base.
Formula 1 racing is the biggest thing -- this side of football (round ball, not oblong) -- in Europe, Latin America and Asia. And pulling a piece of that World Cup demographic can't hurt NASCAR's bottom line can it? I mean one billion people can't be wrong, can they?
NASCAR has put the Latin American market in its scopes, and a big name like Montoya is bound to attract more attention from points South.
This isn't to say that Montoya is going to come into NASCAR as a world beater.
There is definitely going to be quite a learning curve moving from the lighter, faster, much more powerful F1 car with its wide tires to a heavier, slower, less powerful stock car with narrower tires.
Of course, getting some experience this year in the stock car, to go with his current six-lap stock car career, is going to help, but you can expect some 40-ish place finishes as Montoya transitions into the Dodge.
As Montoya's trek to NASCAR was put into high gear on Tuesday, another open-wheeled star took a step back from her rumored NASCAR foray. Danica Patrick's father and manager, T.J. Patrick, put the rumor mill in high gear by making the rounds in the garage last Sunday at Chicago, telling anyone that would listen that his daughter, the 24-year-old IRL star, was going to be listening to offers from NASCAR teams for a gig in 2007.
Patrick is definitely a hot commodity for any NASCAR owner for the marketability factor.
But she said, "Thanks, pop, but no thanks."
Apparently NASCAR isn't in her future, or we are getting a great big load of, um, disinformation. She is content where she is in the IRL, saying she really wants to win the Indianapolis 500.
While she would be a marketing coup for any NASCAR team that could possibly land her, Patrick would not have the same success in NASCAR that other IRL competitors who have made the switch have had.
Robbie Gordon has been pretty good in NASCAR, and the other guy, maybe you've heard of, Tony Stewart, has had a none-too-shabby career after moving to NASCAR from the open-wheel series.
Unlike Montoya and Gordon and Stewart, Patrick has yet to win a race in a big-time racing series.
And until she does, she is going to be the Anna Kournikova of racing, whether she is in the IRL or NASCAR.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.
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