Last Friday at Talladega, Juan Pablo Montoya made the most anticipated NASCAR debut in years, and it was likely that no one's heart was beating faster than that of owner Chip Ganassi, who stood a few feet from his driver before the start of the Food World 250 in the ARCA series, which is the Double A of NASCAR.
"When I asked Juan Pablo to race for me, I thought he was kidding when he said he'd do it," says Ganassi. "I'm still stunned."
Montoya, 31, who won the 2000 Indy 500 while driving for Ganassi, has spent the last 51/2 years in Formula One, winning seven races. But in June, Montoya—a native of Bogot�, Colombia, who lives in Miami—told Ganassi that he would like to become the first F/1 driver to jump to NASCAR and compete full time in the Nextel Cup series. A few weeks later he signed a multiyear contract to drive Ganassi's number 42 Dodge beginning in 2007. In his first stock car race last Friday, Montoya showed tantalizing potential. After starting second, he dropped as low as 31st but then worked back up through the field to finish third.
"I'm having fun," said Montoya. "I'm actually passing cars, which hardly ever happens in Formula One."