Rumble Strips: F1 stars eye NASCAR

In Rumble Strips, Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR team breaks down the latest news, notes and rumors running through the NASCAR garage.

July 8, 2006
Villeneuve, Montoya taking stock

By Bob Margolis



As it grows in stature as a major racing series both domestically and abroad, NASCAR has become more and more attractive to some of the world's top drivers.

Last week, former Formula One champion and Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve – who likely will lose his ride with BMW's F1 team at the end of this season, possibly spelling an end to his F1 career – expressed interest in coming to America and a career in NASCAR.

"Going to NASCAR might not be such a bad career move because it's the most exciting race series in the U.S. and it's a very different discipline to F1," Villeneuve told the Agence France-Presse. "I would not consider it a step down. Would I consider a move to stock cars? I would."

Coming to NASCAR may prove to be a tough move even for the considerable talents of the 35-year-old Canadian, a fact he readily acknowledges in his reference to it being a "different discipline to F1."

However, should a forward-looking Busch Series team be willing to give him a test, Villeneuve could prove to be a surprise as well a strong attraction for the local fans when the series heads north for a race on the Montreal road course named for Villeneuve's late father, Gilles Villeneuve, next season.

Another big F1 name which very recently surfaced in regard to a possible American move is former open wheel champion and Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who likely is losing his F1 ride with the Mercedes-McLaren team at the end of this season.

Montoya's tenure in F1 has been seen as a disappointment since the very talented driver has never fulfilled his potential of becoming a champion in that series. Because of that, and his reputation for being an overly-aggressive driver, there has been little interest expressed in his services by other F1 teams

In the past few weeks, Montoya's name has been linked to his old boss, Chip Ganassi, who last month told Autosport magazine, "I'd love to have Montoya back. I'd take him in a second," a comment which many had interpreted as having the Colombian take a seat in one of Ganassi's IRL cars.

However, according to sources close to Montoya, what the 31-year-old former CART champion really is interested in is Ganassi's soon-to-be vacant No. 42 Nextel Cup car.

Despite never having competed in a Cup car, Montoya did spend some time behind the wheel of Jeff Gordon's Monte Carlo in June 2003.

Most observers agree that Montoya did a fine job his first time in a stock car, although he did misjudge the braking power of the much-heavier stock car and overshot the first turn. He went on to run six laps at full speed.

Last weekend at the U.S. Grand Prix, Montoya was part of a press conference with DaimlerChrysler chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche, his current boss Ron Dennis and NASCAR team owner Ray Evernham, who helped usher Dodge back into NASCAR. DaimlerChrysler is the manufacturer of both the Dodge and Mercedes Benz brands, and Ganassi, of course, runs Dodges in Nextel Cup.

Although staged during the F1 race weekend, the press event was designed to reaffirm DaimlerChrysler's commitment to motorsports and specifically to NASCAR, which it recently has been rumored to be leaving. However, it also provided an excellent opportunity for Montoya to be reintroduced to the American press and linked to NASCAR, as well as to be embraced by DaimlerChrysler's top execs. They see Montoya as a strong link between their company and the Latino audience, especially in regard to a series like Nextel Cup.

Should Montoya take up residence with Ganassi's NASCAR team, he would replace another former open wheel racer in Casey Mears, who heads to Hendrick Motorsports next season.

Ganassi has strong regard for Montoya, who brought the car owner many accolades during his brief tenure with Ganassi's CART team. Montoya won that series title as a rookie in 1999 (the previous rookie to do so was former F1 champion Nigel Mansell in 1993) and also the Indy 500 the following season.

Montoya then left Ganassi to join the Williams F1 team.

The Columbian's aggressive driving style perhaps may be a bit too strong for the F1 crowd, but it is similar to another former open wheel and now Nextel Cup star – Tony Stewart. There's no doubt Montoya would fit in with the Nextel Cup drivers.

Ganassi has been unavailable for comment as he is on his midseason summer vacation in the Bahamas with team partner Felix Sabates.

Could they be working on the details of a contract for Montoya while sunning themselves on Sabates' boat in the Caribbean?

July 8, 2006
NASCAR seeking New York alternative?

By Bob Margolis

International Speedway Corporation's (ISC) attempts to put an oval track in the New York City area have so far been highlighted by a large financial outlay, a raucous city council meeting on Staten Island (the proposed track site) that literally had ISC execs running for the doors, and mixed support from both the local and statewide political machine.

And despite NASCAR chairman Brian France's insistence that ISC execs knew from the get-go that it wouldn't be an easy task, and ISC president Lesa France Kennedy's resolve that the process would move forward, sources close to ISC say alternatives are being discussed.

The nearby Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey, which already sports a football stadium, an arena, a one-mile thoroughbred racing facility, ample parking for thousands of vehicles and easy access, has come into play as a possible site for the proposed ¾-mile oval race track.

The Meadowlands complex could be considered a viable alternative for many reasons.

Its proximity to the city already allows it to play host to the New York City area's two NFL teams, and the horse racing facility could become another multi-use track, similar to Dover Downs in Delaware, which hosts both NASCAR events as well as horse racing.

Also, the availability of hotel rooms for both competitors as well as out-of-town race fans near the Meadowlands is far better than on Staten Island and at cheaper rates in Manhattan – where many would be forced to stay for a Staten Island race.

ISC officials, however, still insist their eyes are set on Staten Island and a facility in the NYC area. They now say their target date is early next decade for its debut.