JUAN PABLO MONTOYA held court for the local media Wednesday at Infineon Raceway, site of the first of two road course races this season for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series and the first time on a road course for the Car of Tomorrow.

Montoya is running for the rookie championship in Cup and Busch Series, and currently is 23rd overall in Nextel Cup standings - top rookie with 16 of 16 races - and 20th overall in Busch - third in rookie standings with 13 of the 16 races. Montoya is only running the Nextel Cup race this weekend.

Montoya's first road racing experience was at what was then known as Sears Point Raceway, with a three-day course in the Skip Barber Driving School. He isn't worried about acclimating again to the road course.

"Ovals, in a way, are simpler because there are only four corners, but there is a lot of technique and so many different race lines," he said, "On a road course, there is only one race line. With my background, it should be easy. The better question is how competitive the car is going to be. I've talked to some drivers to get hints as to what to do and where to go."

JPM said he spoke with CASEY MEARS last week.

"The main thing that bothers you is where do you brake," he revealed, "The last thing you want to do is miss a braking point and wreck the whole car. The problem is that, by the time you get to the race track during practice, do a few laps and check the car, you only get ten laps and it's straight to qualifying. If I get really comfortable and the car is good, we should do pretty good in qualifying and, by Sunday, we should be really good."

JPM isn't shy about touting his skills as a road course driver either.

"It's because I've always done it," he reasoned, "I think, on ovals, I'm just starting to get the hang of it and, when I get comfortable in the car, I'm competitive."

For Montoya, the biggest challenge for him and his Ganassi team has been the Car of Tomorrow.

"It has been a tough programme for us," he admitted, "We thought we'd do a lot better. We did a lot of testing and we did our homework, but it kind of surprised us when we just sucked.

"Coming here with the COT will determine how good we are. If somebody did more homework than us, and they probably did, and they found something tricky in how to run the suspension and stuff, then we might be in trouble. If their car is half a second quicker than me, you can improvise half a second for a lap or two, but not for 110 laps.

"The key for me here is to watch and learn."