Juan Pablo Montoya is having the time of his life racing stock cars -- even though a rookie mistake cost him any chance for a win on Sunday.
The former Formula One driver misinterpreted his spotter's instructions 18 laps into an Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) race at Iowa Speedway, causing a wreck that put the Colombian in the pits for 40 laps and ruined his shot at a decent finish.
Montoya, who will take over the No. 42 Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing next season in the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's (NASCAR) top-level Nextel Cup Series, completed 208 of 250 laps and wound up 24th, last among cars that finished the race. Montoya was third in a race in ARCA -- considered a second-level stock-car circuit -- at Talladega Speedway in his stock car debut on Oct. 6.
"Yes, we want to win. But we're here to learn. The main goal is to prepare ourselves for next year," Montoya said.
Montoya recovered after the crash, moving up 16 spots. And despite a disappointing finish, he sported a huge grin following the race, telling his team simply that "it was fun."
Part of the reason Montoya decided to leave Formula One after six seasons for US stock cars was his disillusionment with the international open-wheel series. He said on Sunday that driving a stock car already has been more fun than he imagined.
"You're passing cars, you're racing guys, you're banging wheels. It's all part of the racing," Montoya said.
Montoya was leading heading into a turn with Steve Wallace a close second. Montoya's spotter yelled "outside" into his headset, indicating that Wallace was on the verge of making a move to the outside. Montoya thought his spotter meant that Wallace was simply eyeing a possible move and didn't realize Wallace was directly behind him.
Montoya then pulled to the outside as Wallace, the son of former NASCAR star Rusty Wallace, accelerated. Wallace nudged Montoya into the wall, causing heavy damage to the right front corner of Montoya's car.
"I thought he wasn't there, to be honest with you. I just went up the race track normally and we just touched," Montoya said.
The crash didn't hurt Wallace, who went on to win the race. But it did make the 19-year-old driver worry that he had taken out the day's star attraction.
"I'd say it was 50-50 -- half his fault, half my fault," Wallace said. "But it's definitely kind of like, `Oh God, I just wrecked Juan Montoya, Formula One star, and ruined my day.' It's not that good of a feeling, that's for sure."
The accident drew a caution flag and pushed Montoya back into 40th place. Normally, Montoya's day might have been over. But Montoya is racing in the ARCA series simply for the experience, so his crew spent 40 laps fixing the car before sending him back out on the track.