Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Montoya poised to race in NASCAR's Nextel Cup

AP , AVONDALE, ARIZONA

Juan Montoya will make his debut in US stock-car racing's top series next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway if his NASCAR team can work out the logistics.

Car owner Chip Ganassi said on Sunday he has submitted an entry for the Nextel Cup season finale for Montoya, who has so far driven only three second-tier Busch Series events.

"We're going to look at it this week and decide," Ganassi said. "Quite frankly, I hope we do it."

Getting the Formula One veteran from Colombia into the race requires a fourth pit crew team, and Ganassi wants to make sure he has the personnel in place.

"The issue is getting him out of the pits in a competitive manner," he said. "We've got to get the rest of the team organized around it. We just don't want to embarrass him or ourselves out there. We want to make sure it's right."

There are other issues to figure out, including the possibility of Montoya replacing Casey Mears in the No. 42 Dodge for next Sunday's race. Mears' car is guaranteed a spot, but the fourth Ganassi entry is not and would have to qualify on speed.

The logical move would be to give Montoya the automatic spot in the race, and put Mears in the No. 30 Dodge because his experience at Homestead makes him a surer bet to get the car in the field.

Mears, who is leaving the Ganassi organization at the end of the season to join Hendrick Motorsports, is opposed to driving the No. 30.

"That would upset me. I'd rather be released," Mears said. "I've been told by Chip that I am running the 42 and nobody has told me otherwise. But if there was a scenario where they were going to put me in a fourth car, then I'd rather be let go."

Montoya is not convinced he will run the Nextel Cup race next week -- even though he ran a car at Homestead during last month's open test session.

"I think if everything is right, it's worth doing it," Montoya said. "If things aren't right, there's no point in it. I don't care. It's just a race."

Montoya has had mixed results through his first three Busch events -- an impressive debut at Memphis, followed by struggles at Texas and a 20th-place finish at Phoenix on Saturday. But his latest effort was particularly frustrating because traffic at the back of the Busch field was often difficult to maneuver.

But he forced himself to stay patient, leading some to wonder if it's time for him to flex some muscle on the track and show his new rivals he won't be pushed around. Ganassi thinks he should do it; Montoya insists it's too early.

"What do I need to do that for?" he said. "I'm not points racing, I'm here to learn."

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