Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open-Wheel Drivers See NASCAR Future; Lazier and Villenueve Become the Latest Stars to Try Stock-Car Racing

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open-Wheel Drivers See NASCAR Future; Lazier and Villenueve Become the Latest Stars to Try Stock-Car Racing

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

DOVER, Del. -- Buddy Lazier and Jacques Villenueve have a lot in common. Not only are they both former Indianapolis 500 winners, but they will make their NASCAR debuts Saturday night in a Craftsman Trucks Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti, also former Indy-car champions, are working on deals to make the move to NASCAR as well. They would join Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart, two more Indy-car champs who already have made the move.

For years, there has been a division between the open-wheel and stock-car communities. The Indy-car crowd has an international flavor and space-age technology. Stock cars have competitive races and better television ratings.

Apparently, competition still is the driving force for racers.

"I needed to do something in racing that was at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is, but something different," Villenueve said. "And I was missing the ovals also, so it sounded like a great challenge. I really wanted to get into it."

Montoya stunned the racing world last year when he decided to leave Formula One for one of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR Dodges. Montoya brought some international credentials that included a CART Champ Car title, an Indy 500 championship, a 24 Hours of Daytona victory and seven F1 wins.

Montoya added victories from the Busch and Nextel Cup Series this year, becoming the third man in racing history to win races in NASCAR, Indy cars and Formula One. The other two are Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney.

"I think a lot of guys have wanted to come to NASCAR for a long time, but they've been afraid," Montoya said. "I think the biggest challenge is first of all getting used to the cars and getting to know the people that I have to work with and understand how the roles work, how everybody races, learn to overtake people. Still, that's very hard. It's so different from open-wheel racing, so it makes it pretty tough. But it's fun."

After Montoya made his decision to race stock cars, his Formula One team fired him. The open-wheel circuit treated him with disdain, continuing its long-standing contempt for stock cars.

But Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently dropped its F1 race, and the circuit is losing drivers to NASCAR.

"I think it's great," Montoya said of F1 drivers switching to NASCAR. "I think it's good for the sport. I think it's going to expand and bring new fans and different people to watch the sport as well. …

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