Juan Pablo Montoya is heading to NASCAR, courtesy of Chip Ganassi.
The former CART champion and Indy 500 winner was introduced Sunday morning as the new driver for his former boss Ganassi's NASCAR team beginning in 2007, confirming an earlier Yahoo! Sports exclusive.
Montoya, who won the CART title in his rookie year, may compete in a few selected Busch races before the end of the season before driving the No. 42 Dodge Cup car for Ganassi full-time starting next year while also competing in Busch races in '07. Casey Mears, the current driver of the No. 42, is leaving the team for Hendrick Motorsports next season.
"When people think about moving from Formula One to NASCAR, a lot of people think 'you're crazy.' I think it's exciting," Montoya said Sunday morning at Chicagoland Speedway, site of the USG Sheetrock 400 Cup race. "It's a great challenge for my career. I've achieved a lot of great things over my years [and] coming here is going to be probably one of my toughest challenges ever."
Montoya's tenure with Ganassi was a stellar one. Along with winning the CART title, the Colombian driver won the Indy 500 for Ganassi in 2000.
Montoya said it took he and Ganassi about an hour to hammer out the details of their new deal.
"There's not a car owner on the planet that wouldn't want this guy in your car," Ganassi said during Sunday's press conference. "In any level, in any series, in any car, this is the guy you want."
Montoya's F1 career spanned six years and included seven wins in 85 races with 28 podium finishes. He leaves his current McLaren team after only two years, having raced for the Williams team for four years prior.
Montoya's experience in a stock car has so far been limited to a brief one-day swap of race cars with Jeff Gordon in 2003 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most observers agree that despite a first lap off-course excursion due to Montoya's misjudging of the stock car's braking abilities, his six laps on the track were impressive.
Montoya says he does not expect success right away in NASCAR, pointing out that he signed a multi-year deal with Ganassi.
"Of course I want to [win right away]," Montoya said. "That's what I think Chip hired me for, but I think it's going to be a lot tougher than people think."
F1 is seen by many as the highest echelon of racing in the world. But moving from the worldwide circuit to what some believe is a less-glamorous world of stock cars isn't making Montoya flinch.
"If it was not racing, I would not be coming here." Montoya said. " … It's about what's your ultimate goal, and for me it's racing."
Montoya admits F1 is exciting and has technologically advanced cars, but that's not all he is looking for.
"Anyone that watches the races, they know it's not the most exciting thing you can watch," Montoya said. "No disrespect, [but] how hard is it to pass a car in Formula One? You pass it and you touch wheels and you're an animal."
Ganassi said there currently are no plans to put Montoya in an Indy car to compete in the Indy 500 again.
- Chip Ganassi