Juan Pablo Montoya is out at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season. Sources say that there are not many options for Montoya to stay in NASCAR and some say Montoya may make a return to open-wheel racing for 2014. Montoya's eight years in NASCAR have been a major disappointment and Montoya joins a list of many open wheelers who have made the jump to stock car racing and have struggled.
When Montoya made the jump into stock cars several NASCAR drivers, including Jeff Gordon, said that Juan Pablo Montoya was one of the best drivers in the world and that Montoya would win numerous races in NASCAR. In eight years Montoya won two races and both were at road course tracks. Montoya's struggles were similar to ones of Sam Hornish Jr's and Dario Franchitti's who both had big time issues in the Sprint Cup Series.
The question is why? Why do so many open wheel stars come to NASCAR and struggle. The answer can be traced back to simply experience. For some reason owners in the Sprint Cup Series bring open wheel stars to the Sprint Cup Series with very little stock car experience. Juan Pablo Montoya had just six races in a stock car before making his Sprint Cup debut in November 2006. While Montoya did show improvement in the 2009 season his performance trailed off the last four seasons.
With just six stock car starts prior to the start of his Sprint Cup career Montoya had to learn on the fly against some of the best in the business at stock car racing. The experience hurt his confidence and it completely messed up his learning curve. Montoya's career was deeply hurt by not having the stock car experience he needed.
Sam Hornish Jr is a similar story. He had just a handful of starts in a stock car prior to his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut. In three full seasons in the Sprint Cup Series Hornish never won a race and never finished higher than 28th in the points standings. Hornish went back down to the Nationwide Series to get the much needed experience before making another shot at the Cup Series.
It's the same deal with Franchitti. Franchitti had just six stock car starts before his debut in 2008 as he attempted a full season in the Sprint Cup Series. Franchitti struggled badly and it was hard for him to find sponsorship. Add that with a broken ankle and by June both he and car owner Chip Ganassi canned the idea of him being a Sprint Cup Series regular and Franchitti went back to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Even Patrick Carpentier who had a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series in 2008 had just a handful of starts before his Sprint Cup Series debut. Carpentier struggled badly in his only real shot at a Sprint Cup Series ride and found himself on the outside looking in.
It's amazing that car owners consistently bring open wheel drivers to their Sprint Cup teams and think that success will be immediate. Even the late Jason Leffler struggled in his first Cup ride with Chip Ganassi in 2001, after having little stock car experience.
While Montoya was given every chance to be successful the story about perhaps one of the best racecar drivers of this generation failing in NASCAR is sad. He ruffled some feathers early in his career but had learned from his past mistakes and became a pretty stand up guy. His unfortunate struggles are eventually why he lost his ride at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
The question is could this have all been avoided? Could Montoya, with the right seasoning, be winning races in the Sprint Cup Series. Or is it that Montoya just couldn't get it done in stock cars. We'll never know, but with Sam Hornish Jr trying to revamp his stock car career in the Nationwide Series maybe that will make this open wheelers with little experience problem a thing of the past. Lets hope so.
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