Car owner Chip Ganassi created a stir this year when he signed former Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya to drive the No. 42 Dodge next year in NASCAR.
Ganassi talked about the worldwide attention the deal has received in a question and answer session with NASCAR.com recently, including a new crush of interest from Montoya's homeland of Columbia. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Q: What's been the most eye-opening thing you've seen around this Montoya fever?
A: Seeing with my own two eyes people coming to a racetrack in Iowa from Colombia. Certainly, we've seen the (increase in) Web hits and our Spanish Web site. But boy, for people to come from Colombia to a track in Iowa, that was surprising. That blows me away.
Q: Do you have plans to put 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in a stock car?
A: We often talk about it. Dan knows that if he ever wants to, the opportunity is there for him to do it. I know Dan has some goals he still wants to achieve in open-wheel racing. When he accomplishes those goals, we'll take another look at it.
Q: Montoya said open-wheel drivers believe NASCAR is easy. Is he changing his mind?
A: Juan has been in three races now. He's learned a tremendous amount of information. The learning curve is steep. If you call each one of these races a step, you could say, yes, he's made solid steps. He's got to make eight or nine more solid steps before he's where he needs to be.
Q: Did you have the same thoughts when you expanded from open-wheel cars to NASCAR?
A: No. None. I knew it was difficult. I was racing week-in and week-out with Roger Penske (in open-wheel) and I knew the effort he put into it and that it wasn't exactly a lay-up for him.
Q : You've won a lot of races in the IRL and Champ Car Series, but you've only won five times in the Nextel Cup in six years. Are the struggles in NASCAR hard to accept?
A: No. Not at all. I love the challenge. I'd like to think we're moving forward. We don't seem to be going backwards like I've seen a lot of teams do.