For now, Montoya
is poised to become the first Latin American driver to compete successfully in
stock car racing, which has NASCAR's marketing department salivating. Last
October a dozen NASCAR officials gathered with Ganassi representatives in
Charlotte for a "Montoya summit" to discuss strategies for marketing
the driver to the Latin American racing audience. NASCAR currently claims a fan
base of 75 million, with 9% of those fans Latin American. That number should
rise in 2007 when Spanish-language TV networks Telemundo and Univision step up
coverage of Montoya in the Nextel Cup series. And when NASCAR visits the tracks
in cities with large Hispanic populations-- Texas Motorspeedway in Dallas,
Phoenix International Raceway, Homestead-Miami Speedway--race officials will
crank up the hype machine for Montoya, whose face will appear on billboards in
A Ganassi driver
hasn't won a Nextel Cup race since Jamie McMurray took the checkered flag in
Charlotte in October 2002. But Ganassi envisions Montoya becoming Rookie of the
Year, winning at least once in '07 (the best bet: one of the two road-course
events, at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., or at Watkins Glen, N.Y.) and
one day becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a Cup title.
has a win this year: the Rolex 24-hour endurance sports car race at Daytona in
late January. Montoya and codrivers Scott Pruett and Salvador Dur�n bested a
field that included Nextel Cup giants Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
"I've seen Juan Pablo do amazing things in race cars," says Ganassi,
"and he has a way of getting people on his team to respond to him. He'll
assimilate just fine to this type of racing."
Ganassi's motor home at Daytona, the owner and his driver appeared as close as
any owner-driver combination in Nextel Cup. They are ready to make history
together. "As they say in poker, 'I'm all in,'" said Ganassi.
I," said Montoya. "There's no going back now for either one of