Montoya makes third place look easy in ARCA debut

Published October 7, 2006

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Still looking for something Juan Pablo Montoya cannot drive.

The former Indianapolis 500 winner, CART champion and Formula One driver passed his first major hurdle toward becoming Nextel Cup's first foreign-born driver by finishing third in an ARCA race Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his first race in a stock car.

Team owner Chip Ganassi grinned on pit road after his driver negotiated an accident, twice worked his way to the front and handled the draft.

"He led a little bit, he went to the back, got a little crash, had some pit stops. He learned a lot," Ganassi said.

Seven-time series champion Frank Kimmel took the lead just before the race was called with 14 laps remaining because of darkness.

Ganassi strongly implied that Montoya will start another ARCA race Oct. 15 at Iowa Speedway, where he tested last week. On Tuesday he is scheduled to test at Memphis Motorsports Park, site of an Oct. 28 Busch series race.

He started second and led the first nine laps, but he was most impressive saving his car midway through the race when Bryan Silas lost control and drove down into the door of Montoya's No. 4 Dodge. The car required three long stops to hammer out body damage, but Montoya worked himself into the top five with 20 laps remaining.

"This experience did a lot for me today," Montoya said. "I have not had this amount of fun in a race in a long time."

Meanwhile, former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve apparently has spoken with representatives of Roush Racing about a driving position.

"He came to see us in Detroit," team owner Jack Roush said. "If he's got the stomach for it, and if we can find the sponsorships for it, certainly we're prepared to support him."

FAST TIMES: Folks tend to hover around the scoring monitors when speeds approach 200 mph at restrictor-plate tracks, which made for quite a crowd during Nextel Cup practice.

Fresh asphalt and a super-smooth surface enabled cars to run faster, catch each other to form larger packs and run closer together than ever.

"The perfect storm," driver Scott Riggs said.

NASCAR director of competition Robin Pemberton said there is "no magic number" for the series stepping in to curtail speeds, most easily regulated by issuing a restrictor plate smaller than the 5/16-inch version currently being used to choke engines of oxygen and reduce horsepower. NASCAR has not changed the plate size during a race weekend since October 2000 when Dale Earnhardt charged from 18 spots down in the last five laps to win for the last time at Talladega.

"We've still probably got a couple of a mile per hour cushion," Pemberton said. "You have to look at the total environment we're running in. The racetrack being as smooth as it is, it's got a lot of grip and drivers are comfortable. You walk up and down the garage area, the drivers don't even realize they're going faster."

The fastest lap of the first practice at Talladega this spring - before paving - was 195.472. Thirty-six teams - led by Jeff Gordon at 198.689 - beat that. The best of the second practice last spring, 194.141, was beaten by 31 teams, led by Robby Gordon at 198.507.

TRUCKS: Mark Martin, a part-timer in the series, put a Roush Ford F-150 on the pole for the inaugural truck race at Talladega. The veteran racer's fast lap of 182.320 mph beat teammate and runnerup David Ragan's 181.770.