Montoya Flat Out At Dega

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Juan Pablo Montoya had his first experience testing a Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates stock car at Talladega Superspeedway Monday, and the former Formula One star enjoyed the experience, going flat out on his first lap around the 2.66-mile oval in the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge.

“It was like, ‘Oh, my God!’” said Montoya, who will drive that car in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series full time in 2007. “When I went into three and four, I started lifting, I said, ‘aw, let’s just try it,’ and just went full throttle, and then I went into one pretty fast. They told me it was fast easy, just try it, and I went for it. To be honest, it felt pretty quick.”

Montoya was one of 35 drivers participating in the one-day ARCA RE/MAX Series test, in preparation for the October 6 Food World 250.

While Ganassi officials seemed pleased with the test, the team would not comment on his schedule for the remainder of 2006, although it appears likely he will compete in a variety of selected NASCAR Busch Series and NEXTEL Cup Series in addition to possible ARCA events.

“The car really moves around a lot more from what I’m used to, but after awhile, you get the hang of it,” Montoya said. “It’s a lot of technique, and I think experience will help a lot, knowing when to run high, when to run low. I’m still struggling a little bit with running high, but I’m getting there. It’s going to take some time.”

Later in the day, Montoya also had his first experience working with traffic and drafting on the giant oval.

“We’ve been working hard to get Juan freed up (from his Formula One obligations) since July,” Ganassi said. “Mission accomplished, as of Friday. Here we are. It’s certainly a load off his shoulders. We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of communication.”

Ganassi said the next test will be at an open ARCA test at Iowa later this week.

“Whatever we can get on whatever kind of track,” Ganassi said. “We’re going to get the most miles we can on the most types of tracks that we can. The benefit will really come 5-6 races into the 2007 season.”

Donnie Wingo, who will be Montoya’s crew chief in 2007, was impressed with what he saw.

“Just like he said, he was flat out the first time he ran by,” Wingo said. “The biggest thing is trying to some of the basics out of the way – getting used to coming in and out of the pits, braking in the pits – it’s pretty important when we get ready to start racing, and this is a good place to practice coming in and out of the pits.”

Montoya’s only experience with heavy cars was running Trans-Am-type cars in his native Colombia a dozen years ago, plus the one day test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003 when he traded cars with NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.

“The highest-banked track I drove on prior to today was Michigan, and compared to here, Michigan is flat,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty high, and the car is amazingly responsive to changes. I’m pleased with that. You can really feel the changes. It’s nice to start understanding how the car reacts to changes.

“It’s new to me,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty exciting. Once I understand the car and feel comfortable, we’ll make that call on when it’s going to happen. But, as Chip said, it’s one step at a time.”

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