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Montoya deals with 'stressful' qualifying

By BRANT JAMES
Published November 18, 2006


HOMESTEAD - Juan Pablo Montoya will get his first Nextel Cup start out of the way on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now he just wants to stay out of the way of the drivers racing for a championship as he prepares to make his full-season debut at NASCAR's highest level in 2007.

Montoya, a former open-wheel champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, qualified a fourth Chip Ganassi Racing car on speed and will start 29th in the No. 30 Dodge. He had to qualify on time because the extra car lacked owner points for automatic entry.

"It was stressful," Montoya said of qualifying, "but it was not about nerves. I didn't want to come out here and look like an idiot and not make the show."

Ganassi had considered placing Montoya in the No. 42 Dodge, which he will take over next year, but said forcing him to qualify on time was a "valuable exercise." Montoya's NASCAR experience has been three Busch Series races since announcing he was leaving Formula One in July.

ON TOP: Kasey Kahne won his sixth pole of the season he has won from the spot three times tying him with Kurt Busch for the series lead. Kahne covered the 1.5-mile, variable-banked track with a best speed of 178.259.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 15th, with second-place. Matt Kenseth at 19th. Kevin Harvick, third in points, will start seventh. Dale Earnhardt Jr., fourth in points, is 14th, and fifth-place Denny Hamlin will begin 33rd.

HELLO AGAIN: Embattled team owner Robert Yates said Friday that he had attained sponsorship for the No. 88 Ford. The future of the car and the team became the source of speculation after UPS announced it would follow Dale Jarrett to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007. Yates said he also had a sponsor for a new No. 90 Ford, but no contracts have been signed for it or the No. 88. David Gilliland will return to the No. 38 Ford.

"I can tell you that we've got everything covered," Yates said. "I know my direction. I know my financial side of it and my team side of it. That's all good."

DUST DEVIL: Robby Gordon won the Baja 1000 desert race for the third time, finishing the 1,050.83-mile course in a Trophy Truck, the top class, ahead of nearly 450 cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles. Gordon drove the first 725 miles before turning his truck over to 19-year-old Andy McMillin. Gordon also won in 1987 and 1989.

Gordon arrived from La Paz, Mexico, on Friday morning in time to practice his No. 7 Chevrolet Nextel Cup car for the final NASCAR race of the season.

Brant James can be reached at brant @sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.