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Open Wheel Failures All Have Something in Common in NASCAR

August 16th, 2013 at 12:12 AM
By Clayton Caldwell

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.

'Juan Pablo Montoya's Car' photo (c) 2010, Mike Kalasnik - license:

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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Tags: Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Patrick Carpentier, sam hornish jr

5 Responses to “Open Wheel Failures All Have Something in Common in NASCAR”

  1.  oooohhhnoes says:

    Montoya ‘deeply hurt’ by not having the stock experience? If you call pulling off the #42′s best season since Sterling Marlin finished 3rd 12 years ago a ‘deep hurt’. Mind you he finished 8th in The Chase after only two full seasons of Sprint Cup. Remind again which open wheel drivers did this? Your whole premise is flawed. And I would hardly call that 2009 season “some improvement”. Montoya was finishing top 10 every other race against guys who were career stock car drivers. How many NASCAR guys’s with 10X’s the experience didn’t make The Chase that year?This story isn’t one of driver experience or skill, it’s about team management and machinery. If Montoya had a car like that 2009 car, the whole time he was in NASCAR this story would have a different ending. Chip never put the $$$ needed into those cars. It’s as obvious as an Edwards backflip.

  2.  USMC7113 says:

    Ganassi’s team was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, there pit stops were in slow motion how many bad calls over how many tires to take and how many bad fuel call’s that caused the 42 car to run out of fuel.
    It’s amazing that the 2009 car was a Dodge and with Chevy help & Hendrick’s motors look at the record of the 1 & 42 car, and the problems they both have had with the car, this morning the one car had a engine go in practice it happens but this could be Montoya’s best career move.

  3.  Clayton Caldwell says:

    I see both your points, however if Montoya is having a similar season to McMurray this year does this move happen? Obviously there is a reason no other Cup teams are interested in Montoya. Not saying they are right, just stating facts.

  4.  USMC7113 says:

    The reason McMurry is still there is his contract expires in 2014, Montoya’s 2013 I really do not think he’s even started to talk to other teams yet but time will tell.

  5.  Mark Eddinger says:

    McMurray is a free agent this off season. He is not signed through 2014 so I/m not sure where you’re getting that. All indications/rumors have him staying with EGR though. As far as Montoya goes his season wasn’t all that bad performance wise this season. The finishes just haven’t matched where he ran in a lot of races which is an issue. He almost won two races. He should have won at Richmond except NASCAR screwed him with a bad late debris caution and then he almost won at Dover until Stewart passed him late. It is true that to me more of the issue lies with EGR as a team and not the drivers Montoya and McMurray. The team needs to get their equipment better and everything across the board.

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