From Open-Wheel Champions to NASCAR
Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier, Jacques Villenueve, Scott Speed, Sam Hornish Jr.
Each driver represents a recent trend of moving from open-wheel cars to stock cars. While backgrounds vary from IndyCar to Formula One, each driver strives to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The NASCAR nation is currently waiting for an official announcement from Jacques Villeneuve and Bill Davis Racing's 2008 plans. Villeneuve debuted in the Cup Series for BDR at Talladega, managing to finish 21st on the lead lap. His adjustment to NASCAR started in August when he raced for BDR in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"I needed to do something in racing that was at an extremely high level," Villeneuve said. "NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year. So it's getting everybody's attention even internationally."
Villeneuve is one of the rare drivers to achieve a CART Championship, Indy 500 Championship, and Formula One World Championship. His open-wheel experience includes expertise on road courses, but he says he missed racing on ovals.
"It's really hard to explain to the European fans, because in their mind it's only two corners and it looks like it's easy driving and flat out and that's it. What they don't realize is there is a lot of fine-tuning to do on the car to gain that extra stability in the car," Villeneuve said. "All that happens during a race, it happens on the track. A lot more than in open-wheel racing like in Europe, where a lot of it happens in the start and that's about it."
The French-Canadian will re-join his former Formula One competitor Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya moved to the Cup Series with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2007 season, receiving criticism in the garage as an aggressive driver.
"Apparently no matter what you're driving nobody likes the new boy. Any time anybody got into F1, we didn't like it, and we made their life hard," Villeneuve said in regards to Montoya. "But he was like that in Formula One, extremely aggressive and got on people's nerves. I guess he kept the same personality going into NASCAR, which once he settles in, it will be alright. He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine."
Montoya recently received a new teammate, Dario Franchitti. The current Indy 500 and IndyCar Series Champion will drive the #40 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008. Franchitti is entered in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville this weekend. He said the team will enter several races this season in preparation for his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut, similar to how they prepared teammate Montoya.
His first stock car race was in Talladega's ARCA RE/MAX Series race. Franchitti finished 17th, running as high as eighth. His first pit stop was a tad messy, and he had to adjust to bump-drafting.
"Being out there on the track with 40 other cars that was a pretty big culture shock," Franchitti said. "In IndyCar the biggest thing is who is in front of you for the draft. The car behind gives you a little bit of help but it is mostly who's in front. With the stock car the guy in front is somewhat important and it's really the guys behind who were helping along."
Alongside Franchitti at Talladega, former Formula One driver Scott Speed had his first stock car start with Red Bull Racing. He finished seventh, running as high as third and even avoiding a collision. Speed mentioned he was comfortable passing, but in a line he couldn't get a feel for the better spot on the outside or inside drafting lines.
"I had a blast out there," Speed said after the race. "This type of racing just couldn't be more different than Formula One. In Formula One, it's all about instant reactions. With stock cars, it's more of a chess game."
California native lost his Formula One ride in midseason this year as the only United States native in the series at the time. Still a driver on the international Red Bull team, Speed plans to run ARCA full-time next year, planning to eventually race Cup.
Drivers making the transition from open-wheel to NASCAR plan to get as much time in a stock car as possible during the remainder of this season. IndyCar driver Sam Hornish Jr. entered several NASCAR Busch Series and ARCA RE/MAX Series races for Penske Racing this season, yet has failed to qualify in his three attempts for the Cup Series. Hornish is committed to attempt again at Martinsville and Phoenix.
Catch all these drivers at Kansas Speedway in 2008! Join the IndyCar Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series April 26 - 27, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series (formerly Busch) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September 27 - 28. Call 866.460.RACE for ticket information today.