The Frontstretch: The Juan Pablo Epidemic by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday July 18, 2006

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The Juan Pablo Epidemic

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday July 18, 2006


Editor’s Note: The Frontstretch is proud to introduce our newest writer – Tommy Thompson – who will be putting together a weekly commentary every Wednesday for us the rest of the season. His first piece is printed below…feel free to comment, as always, and let us know what you think!

Evidence of political correctness (P.C.), a crippling disease that renders a person unable to verbalize their true thoughts, could be witnessed throughout the garage area at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday, July 9th, prior to the running of the Nextel Cup USG Sheetrock 400. Following the announcement by Cup team owner Chip Ganassi that former Indy 500 winner and Formula One (F1) standout Juan Pablo Montoya would be coming to Nextel Cup in 2007, most of us media types who scurried for car owners and drivers’ reactions to the news and were met with a virtually unanimous opinion that Juan Pablo's forage into NASCAR is, “Great! Awesome! A Big Day For NASCAR! Gives Legitimacy To The Sport!” In other words…blah, blah, blah…

When questioned about Montoya's chances for a successful transition from the 1200 pound open-wheel racecars to the 3400 pound NASCAR behemoths, the response again was almost undivided from the NASCAR notables. “There will be a learning curve…Montoya's an exceptional driver and will adjust… He has the heart and desire to be successful.” That’s right…even more blah, blah, blah…

What the luminaries of NASCAR could not verbalize (a common symptom of P.C.) is that they didn't know NASCAR still needs to prove its legitimacy as a “big time” auto racing organization, and that NASCAR has more potential sellout dates here in the good old US of A than they can possibly fulfill. So, truly, what the international open-wheel racing fans think of stock car racing doesn't really matter. The P.C. disability also prevented any of the more defensive NASCAR officials from making the disingenuous offer of loaning F1 one of their tire specialists next time they attempt to race at Indianapolis. Such a crippling disease!

Amongst all this “P.C.” talk, did anyone “in the know” point out just how large the odds are against Montoya making a successful transition to the very different racecars of NASCAR? Do the names of drivers Adrian Fernandez, Paul Tracy, Al Unser, Jr., or Christian Fittipaldi mean nothing? Has anyone bothered to tell Juan Pablo about these previously highly talented open-wheel racers who came to conquer, only to leave conquered?

Of course, there’s the possibility the NASCAR insiders just happen to be genuinely in total agreement on this issue. I've got to say, though, that’s not very likely. I would be willing to entertain that thought if someone could just present to me another time when there has been such singleminded thinking on any subject concerning the sport among NASCAR officials, owners, drivers, crew chiefs, and, what the heck…let’s throw in rear tire changers. Can’t think of one? Join the club.

I wonder if the P.C. epidemic that has infected NASCAR has transcended our shores and become a worldwide pandemic, having infiltrated the international F1 crowd, as well? One sure way to find out would be to send F1 one of our accomplished stock car drivers. What if NASCAR sent, let's say, former Nextel Cup Champion Kurt Busch to team McLaren to compete in F1 next season in place of Montoya? What would F1's knowledgeable insiders say then about his likelihood for success in their field of motorsports? I doubt we’d be hearing the welcome mat laid out from every single person with any sort of involvement in the sport.

So, there is reason for race fans to be optimistic after all. P.C. is, for the most part, a disease that is still contained…just within the borders of NASCAR.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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07/18/2006 11:55 PM

I understand what you are saying but as far as open wheel failures, what about all the successful transitions? Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Robby Gordon, and Casey Mears all came from open-wheel racing. Stewart and Jeff Gordon speak for themselves. Kasey Kahne leads NC with 4 wins, Ryan Newman has the highset career pole postion percentage EVER, Robby has 3 NC wins and a Busch win, and with any kind of luck Casey Mears would already have close to 5 wins in his career. JP Montoya has a legitimate shot at making in NC. I hope he can get in the NC race at the Glen if McLaren would give him a full release. I think Montoya has a pretty good chance at being RoTY next year.

07/19/2006 06:40 AM

But other than Stewart, those guys never competed in open wheel in a major series like F1, CART (or whatever they call themselves these days) and the IRL.

To me F1 is more engineering and computers than car and driver. It will be interesting to see how he makes the change. I don’t see him setting the world on fire, especially in Ganassi equipment!

07/19/2006 08:09 AM

It’s great to see a familiar name!! Like you, I would be skeptical regarding Montoya until he gets sufficient seat time in a stock car. Success isn’t going to be overnight, so patience will definitely be a virtue here.

07/19/2006 08:20 AM

You are correct in all those that you named. The difference between the Gordon’s, Stewart, Khane, Newman etc…is that they cut their teeth on ovals and dirt for the most part racing USAC midgets and sprints. Which is great experience for learning car control. Additionally,none of them were just dropped into a Cup car and expected to perform. Of course my articles heavy on the “tongue-and-cheek” But the other failures that I listed came from, like Montoya, rear-engine road course experience which hasn’t seemed to be very beneficial in driving a Stock Car.

07/19/2006 08:44 AM

Thanks Bill,

Patience will be required! Montoya could come in and surprise everyone, but it isn’t very likely. The two genres are so different. And to be quite honest, I wouldn’t really expect one of our more talented drivers with no open-wheel, rear engine experience to excel in their sport quickly, if ever.

07/19/2006 09:45 AM

Political correctness is alive and well today in Na$car. Say anything negative and you will become black flaged on king Brian’s list. Then strange things will start happening to you such as speeding down pit road, failing post qualifying inspections, and mysterious debris cautions when you are making green flag pit stops.

07/19/2006 10:23 AM

I personally think deciding he won’t be any good in Cup before he gets there is as silly as saying he will. He wanted to give it a try. Gannassi’s going to let him. He’ll either succeed or he won’t, and to try to hedge this all as a PR stunt seems like a fairly limited way to look at it.

PS – I also think engineering plays more of a role than the driver in Cup as well. It’s just a different sort of engineering.

07/19/2006 10:53 AM


I don’t consider it a PR stunt. Chip Ganassi apparently believes that JP can make the transition. My point was more to the opinions given on his chances for success. Assume that I am wrong and that JP has a better than average chance of succeeding. But based on what we know about other rear-engine, road course racers wouldn’t you think at least someone else would come to the conclusion that the odds seem to be against him? But…not one person, that I can find among the pit road crowd has said as much.

07/19/2006 10:59 AM

That’s an interesting thought David. More intimidation than PC?

07/19/2006 01:34 PM

Let’s talk about the open wheel “failures” you cited. Adrian Fernandez – Led a bunch of laps in his first Busch race, but only attempted one other race. What kind of tryout is that? Paul Tracy was once a blazing talent, but is now in the twighlight of his career and has attempted a few races for a 3rd rate Busch team. He never committed to the full program he could have had with Childress and instead felt his best career move was to continue running one of the few sponsored cars in that fading Champ Car series. Al Unser Jr – Did he have more than one start? His performance in the IROC series stands as testament that he could run with the NASCAR drivers in a stock car. He never committed to a program despite offers. Christian Fittipaldi never distuguished himself in either F1 or Champ Car despite driving as a team mate to Michael Andretti on the elite Newman Haas team. Michael racked up dozens of wins during the time Christian scored his single victory. Besides, the guy’s brief NASCAR career was for Petty Enterprises. Jeff Gordon would be 30th in points if he had to drive that sorry garbage!

Jaun Pablo is a racer’s racer. He is the Colombian Tony Stewart. Chip Ganassi knows talent. This guy is one to watch.

07/19/2006 02:29 PM

I’ve read in a couple articles that Juan Pablo can be quite the horse’s-rear at times. I’m wondering how he will react to having to be accessible to fan and sponsors? Will he spend time in the shop with his crew? Will he take up residence in North Carolina?

Those are the compelling questions I wonder about as far as JP is concerned.

07/19/2006 04:14 PM

Consider this.Montoya won Indy at his 1 & only race in a IRL car.He also won Champcar when it was still a top series at his 1st attempt.I am an English F1 fan & also a Nascar fan.Will Montoya win the Nextel Cup in 07.No, but he should win at least 1 race & he will lead quite a few laps if Ganassi give him a decent car.As for Kurt Busch driving an F1 sure he could compete competently but I think Jeff Gordan would probably had a better chance in his earlier years.

Yukon Eric
07/19/2006 06:11 PM

First of all, Tracy did not fail in his attempt at NASCAR. He broght money with him to a second rate team to try his hand at stock cars. In a very limited sachedule he didn’t do too bad. He made his choice too stay in Champ Car. In my opinion he didn’t make the right choice. Montoya will be fine. He will adapt quicker than most people think and may even suprise you. No matter what, he’s got a shot and he will give it his best.

07/20/2006 08:57 AM

Understand that I make no real prediction on Montoya’s eventual success in Cup cars. Certainly there are reasons why other open-wheel drivers haven’t been successful. No argument that Montoya is a talented open-wheel, road course driver. But, I would think that all would agree that JP’s chances for success would be better if he first was allowed to acclimate himself to this form of racing for a year or two before being thrown right in with the “big dogs”, where immediate results are almost required to satisfy sponsors. That aside, is it paculiar that no one in NASCAR proper hasn’t even suggested that thought?

07/20/2006 09:34 PM

I hope there is alot of sheetmetal at the 42 garage cause he sucked in every leval I have seen him in.

07/20/2006 10:31 PM

If JP Montoya has sucked at every “leval” you have ever seen him at, then you have never watched him race and have no reason to even talk about him.

You are incorrect in the statement than Stewart is the only driver I listed with major open-wheel experience. Robby Gordon would be any Indy 500 Champion if he hadn’t ran out of gas on the last lap in 1999. Casey Mears made a few starts in the IRL. John Andretti, a 2-time Nextel Cup race winner, is immensely experienced in major level open-wheel racing. Heck, even Jason Leffler has an Indy 500 start.

THANK YOU! Tommy just immediately threw those names out there, without any real grounds to back it up with.

07/21/2006 04:44 PM

Not true. I threw those names out there because they are, like Montoya other open-wheel, real engine drivers that attempted to make a career in NASCAR and were not successful. If Montoya’s attempt is unsuccessful as well, I am sure his fans can find reasons for his demise, but…he, as the others before him were none the less unsuccessful.

07/22/2006 01:02 AM

That’s just it though, the only one who was actually a flop was Christian Fittipaldi. Adrian Fernandez almost won in his first ever NASCAR race, Paul Tracy never even attempted a true career change (he has only run 4 NBS races for Frank Cicci), and Al Unser Jr. ran 1 race in 1993. I will agree with Fittipaldi though, he was ridiculously bad in the Cup Series. However, the difference was he was driving for one of the worst Cup teams at the time with his only experience in stock cars being 3 NBS races (career best finish: 33rd). Jayski reported last week that Ganassi has plans to run JP Montoya in 22 races this year, betwen ARCA, Busch, and Cup. I know that might not be the highest number in the world, but 22 races is a lot of time to get comfortable. Montoya has the best chance to succeed that any foreign driver has ever had in present-day NASCAR.

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