Montoya says open wheel racing harder than NASCAR
Excerpts from LA Daily News interview with Juan Montoya:
Question: Going from Formula One to NASCAR, how does this rank with anything else you've done?
Juan Pablo Montoya: Probably open-wheel is harder because everything happens faster, the level of grip is different. It's completely different cars. Here it's hard. It's a hard race car. It's all about confidence. I think the oval is all about the feedback you get out of the car.
For me, being so new to this, a mile and a half track are the hardest there are. You go in, you get out of the gas, get back on it, the car twitches. I'm out of the gas straightaway. I'm not taking any risks. At the same time, you want to run fast. As soon as you get a little bit comfortable, you start attacking and attacking and attacking. You start getting a little bit faster.
Q: Do you see yourself leading the way for other open-wheel drivers, like Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr., especially if you have some success?
Montoya: I hope I have some success. I'm committed for this for the long-term. Is it going to happen this year? I don't know. Probably on the road course I can do a good job, get some results. I think the smaller ovals (will) be good. I think Homestead was pretty decent for being my first race.
It's hard to say you're going to be good here and bad there. It's all about getting comfortable. When I went to the Homestead test, I was nowhere. I was probably easily half a second, six-tenths (of a second) off my teammates. When I got to the race, I was the fastest car of the Ganassis. It's all relative. We'll see.
For me, it's just hard to say, `Yeah, I'm going to go out there, I'm going to kick everybody's ass.' Do I want to do that? Yeah, of course I want to do that. You got to be a bit realistic. I never put myself to set some goals and say, I need to do this and that. You just got to go out there and do the best you can. It's that simple.
One day the car works good. You look like a hero. Next day the car handles bad and the transition is hard.
Q: When did you first have an interest in NASCAR? Is it something you thought about long before you made the deal?
Montoya: Being realistic, NASCAR is the biggest motor sport in the states. Open-wheel, yes, I've been there, done that kind of thing. I thought it would be a great challenge for myself, come and do stock cars. I'll be honest with you, when I drove Jeff (Gordon's) car I was really comfortable in it. That's one of the reasons when I was talking to Chip about it, it really motivated me to do the deal. I got in it. Within three laps in a road course, I was up to speed. I thought, this feels good.
To get that feeling in something completely different, it's hard. You don't get that every day. I'll guarantee you, in an open-wheel car oval right now, I would probably suck as well. It's a completely different thing. I had some basics when I drove the open-wheels, but I hadn't driven an oval for six years or seven years.
Get back into the oval thing, you know the race lines, learn what the car is trying to tell you, how far you can really push it, all that. It's all about learning how far you can go with the car and do things.
Q: What do you think is the toughest race to win?
Montoya: It's like everything. You take a stock car guy to the (Indianapolis) 500, say, which one is harder to win? The guy will say the Indy 500 because he doesn't understand how everything works. I'm new to this. I haven't even raced it.
Is it going to be really hard? Yes, it's going to be really hard. Am I aiming to win? I'm more aiming to get the car to the end of the race to be realistic. Do we have a shot at it? Am I going to try to win it? Yes. I would be really happy if we can get a top 20, top 15 out of that race.
The key thing out of the first year races is to score good points. If you can keep scoring good points, then you can start worrying about the rest.
It's a shame you start the Daytona 500 for me as a rookie because I have no experience drafting, very little. It was a bit of a surprise when I tested, five laps in, didn't do any damage, but I touched the wall coming out of (Turn) 4. Got so tight, I couldn't believe it. They told me it was going to get a little tight. It wasn't a little tight. It was like, my arms were down here, I went straight into the wall.