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Tomorrow Has Arrived
LARS ANDERSON
February 19, 2007
In a season of change for NASCAR--say moshimoshi to Toyota and hola to the restyled race car--no other newcomer is as promising as Juan Pablo Montoya, the former F/1 standout who's poised to take stock car racing global
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February 19, 2007

Tomorrow Has Arrived

In a season of change for NASCAR--say moshimoshi to Toyota and hola to the restyled race car--no other newcomer is as promising as Juan Pablo Montoya, the former F/1 standout who's poised to take stock car racing global

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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 those areas.

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.

Montoya already 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´┐Żn 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."

Seated in 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.

"So am I," said Montoya. "There's no going back now for either one of us."

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