NASCAR drivers are underrated, says Montoya

Two drivers who made the leap from F1 to NASCAR before the latest convert Kimi Raikkonen have offered their own very candid assessment of the two substantially different motorsport disciplines
In welcoming their former sparring-partner Kimi Raikkonen to NASCAR, Juan-Pablo Montoya has asserted that drivers in the series are consistently 'underrated' and that the sport is far more popular internationally than many in F1 choose to believe, with Nelsinho Piquet going so far as to accuse grand prix stars of being 'scared' of making the leap.

It was confirmed at the weekend that 2007 F1 World Champion Raikkonen will campaign a Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra in 'three-to-five races' of the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series [see separate story – click here]. Whilst questioning his choice of Charlotte Motor Speedway for his NCWTS bow next month, Montoya – who partnered Raikkonen at McLaren-Mercedes from 2005 to midway through 2006 – reckons the development is a sign of NASCAR's ever-expanding global reach.

“My first choice wouldn't be Charlotte, to start my first race,” reflected the Colombian, who made his own stock car debut in an ARCA outing at Talladega in October, 2006, “but I think it would be cool if he comes here – he's a cool guy and I think he would fit right in.

“The series is a lot higher than people think it is. I think people here are underrated at our level against worldwide. I think maybe if you would get the numbers of how many people internationally are watching these [NASCAR] races not only in America but in Europe and Asia, you would shock yourself. I think they are pretty amazing.

“People in F1 are very selfish – they think there is nothing better out there. You look from technology-wise, there's not, but [regarding] the actual racing, [NASCAR] is exciting. It's exciting to watch; it's exciting to be here. When you hear about ovals and sometimes you watch them, the first time you watch it by yourself, 'oh yeah, it's a circle', but if you come and actually see how fast we're going in real life, they go, 'oh yeah, that's a lot faster than people think it is'.

“People are watching. Over the last few years when I came over, people started paying attention to how I ran and I think a lot of people got hooked on it. I still receive e-mails from people from F1 [saying], 'good luck in the race, great qualifying'. It's like, 'oh, you're paying attention'. That is surprising.”

Montoya did warn Raikkonen, however, that he would need to adopt a different mindset to that which carried him to 18 grand prix victories between 2003 and 2009, cautioning: “When you're young, you take every lap like it's the last lap – when you go out and try to do that here, you're not going to blend in and you're not going to do well. When you learn to take care of the car, be smart and make moves when you have to make moves, or learn to give up a place or two when you have to, it's part of learning to be in NASCAR. When you understand the system, it works really well.”

Four-time Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) Series Champion Jeff Gordon agreed that NASCAR's newest recruit needs to take things steady to begin with, but he is confident the Finn is adopting the right approach by bedding himself in gently.

“I can't believe it,” the Californian confessed. “I think it says a lot about NASCAR that somebody like him is coming here. I admire him for wanting to take the step and go truck racing and not just jump in a Cup car. I think, obviously, the word is out there to the best drivers in the world that if you think you are just going to come in here and jump in a Cup car and be competitive, you are kidding yourself.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Citroen DS3 WRC, ICE 1 Racing
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Citroen DS3 WRC, ICE 1 Racing
Jeff Gordon is beginning to plan for life after his Sprint Cup racing career. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gordon [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon - Hendrick Motorsports   [pic credit: NASCAR/Getty]
Nelson Piquet Jr [Pic credit: Renault]
Nelson Piquet Jnr, Renault, Barcelona F1 Test, 14/2/07
Nelson Piquet Jnr, Renault, Barcelona F1 Test, 14/2/07
Montoya celebrates in Winners Circle at Watkins Glen
Juan Pablo Montoya [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Juan-Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, at the 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway [pic credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Juan Pablo Montoya [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Restart under green at Talladega
Mark Martin (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) leads the field away at Phoenix   [pic credit: NASCAR/Getty]
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS who finished in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a fifth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Elliott takes over the #24 car from retired driver Jeff Gordon.  (Photo by Ashley R Dickerson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, races to a fourth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Cleary for Chevy Racing)

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April 04, 2011 7:26 PM

OzFan and Mr.Lee -- You guys make it obvious you are real know-nothings. Just so you know, I'm not a NASCAR fan, and I a long time F1 enthusiast, though I'd like F1 to be much better managed. The speed and closeness of NASCAR competition is surely beyond your understanding. If you cannot see the major differences in driving technique and race strategy and cannot admire them, and wonder at the courage involved, you must be blind as well. Montoya is "shooting fish in a barrel" in NASCAR?? Montoya is a great open-wheeled racer on ovals as well as road courses. He's just a middle of the pack good one in NASCAR! What are you watching? Can you read? Study the sport a little, and then make the comparison with F1. No, I don't like ugly Americans with bad accents either (yes I am a natural born US citizen), but NASCAR is seriously technical in vehicle and driving, and is a product that has created immense wealth. You don't have to like it, but you should respect it and not get caught talking sh

Magician - Unregistered

April 05, 2011 7:32 AM

When Piquet says that F1 drivers are scared of going to NASCAR, I think what he means is F1 drivers see it as a one-way ticket, that once your are state-side, even going to Champ Cars, you don't come back. Everone in Europe sees F1 as the pinnacle, but that isn't necessarily true, it's for kids really, as Schuey is finding out. Perhaps he needs to try NASCAR, he may find it tougher going that what he is experiencing now. To all the F1 snobs, those that continually rubbish NASCAR, you really do live in the past. This isn't 1970's anymore, and the cars are technically interesting nowadays, and the drivers actually quite good. Surprising how many top guys from other disciplines try NASCAR and surprise, surprise, don't find it so easy. Good luck Kimster.

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