With the Danica Patrick sweepstakes beginning to gain momentum, at least one potential teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya has some words of advice and caution for the IndyCar driver should she make the move to NASCAR.
“Danica, I think she’s got the talent and everything, but I don’t think she knows what she’s getting into,” said Montoya, a former Indy car champ and Formula One winner who now drives for Chip Ganassi in the Sprint Cup Series.
“They’re [stock cars] so different to drive. It’s not the same feeling. … If she comes I’m sure she can do it, but it doesn’t matter if you come to a winning team or anything, it’s going to take time.”
Montoya’s Ganassi team has emerged as a front runner in signing Patrick, whose IndyCar Series contract with Andretti Green Racing is up at the end of the season.
Patrick has said she’ll listen to all offers — from remaining in the IndyCar Series to giving NASCAR a try. Her name has even been floated as a potential candidate for the American Formula One team that will debut next season.
Since Chip Ganassi fields cars in both the IndyCar Series and NASCAR he presents a unique and strong option for Patrick. She is currently ranked fifth in the IndyCar Series championship and has said she wants nothing more than to win the Indianapolis 500 — where she finished a career best third this May.
What makes the Ganassi connection appealing is the chance to drive for a championship IndyCar team that also offers the potential for a foray into NASCAR. She could get her feet wet in stock cars without a full commitment — with the possibility of making a more permanent move later.
A spokesman for the Target-Ganassi team conceded that his team and anyone else that can afford Patrick has probably spoken with her or her management team at this point. She said right now her agents are gathering information and she doesn’t expect to announce her future plans until after the IndyCar Series season wraps up in October.
Obviously Patrick is using the potential of move to NASCAR as a bargaining chip, but she does seem sincere in welcoming a new challenge. More to the point, she’d like to be a part of America’s most popular racing series.
It would be a career builder in theory. The reality, however, is a trickier proposition as Montoya alluded to Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Current Sprint Cup Series championship leader Tony Stewart is the only driver to win a championship in IndyCar and in NASCAR’s marquee Cup Series. Former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. has struggled in two years of Cup racing but has shown improvement in the last few months.
Scott Speed, who like Montoya, came to stock cars directly from Formula One, has struggled in his rookie year, even failing to qualify for one of the Cup Series’ two road course races last week at Sonoma, Calif.
Montoya is enjoying his best effort in three NASCAR seasons, cracking into the playoff top-12 this week with 10 races remaining before the Chase for the Championship begins.
“When I came here, my expectations were not that high,” said Montoya, who is ranked 12th entering Sunday’s race.
“I knew it was going to take time. When I came to Ganassi the team was running OK but it wasn’t a great team so we’ve done a lot of work over the last couple of years to get where we are.
“You’ve got to have time with the car and you’ve got to get used to the feeling that you’ve got to go fast when the car doesn’t feel right. I’ve finally got to a point where I go every week and I’m not surprised, it doesn’t feel weird. … and that takes a long time.”
And as for the tired, question-for-the-ages, Montoya doesn’t think Patrick being a woman has anything to do with competition at all — not even in NASCAR which hasn’t had a woman racing full time in the Cup Series in years.
“I think out there on the track when you have a helmet on, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Montoya said. “It is what it is. I think she’ll probably get very welcomed by everybody if she decides to come. She’s going to have good weeks, bad weeks you know.
“It’s her problem not mine.”