Montoya, Villeneuve back for NASCAR

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve once had to be separated during a confrontation in Canada.

Updated: August 30, 2007 18:08 IST
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Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve once had to be separated during a confrontation in Canada.

But that was six years ago and their relationship has steadily improved since the contentious early days.

Now Montoya is eagerly awaiting Villeneuve's arrival into NASCAR. The 1997 Formula One world champion is following Montoya's path into American stock cars, and spent on Monday and Tuesday testing a truck in Chicago.

"I think it's nice to see Jacques, and hopefully he does well," Montoya said. "If I can help in any way I will. He's a nice guy."

That's a far different tune from the one Montoya sang back in 2001, his first season in F1. He had just moved up from CART onto the world stage, a path Villeneuve had also taken en route to becoming one of F1's biggest stars.

The contempt between the former Indianapolis 500 winners erupted at the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix, when Villeneuve accused Montoya of blocking him on the track during practice.

Montoya countered that Villeneuve brake-checked him at a chicane during the same session.

The tension boiled over in a confrontation at the pre-race driver briefing, when the two exchanged words and Villeneuve reportedly tried to grab Montoya by the throat.

The two were separated by an official and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone threatened both with a two-race suspension if they didn't learn to get along.

Fight long behind

Both drivers now say those days are long behind them.

"We had a hard time, I would say early in our careers, then we mellowed down," Villeneuve said on Tuesday. "But off the track, outside of the car, we always got along. Just there were a few high-spirited moments in car on the track."

Villeneuve announced his entrance into NASCAR last week, when he said he'd test a truck at Chicagoland Speedway for Bill Davis Racing.

Davis said he'll enter the Canadian in the final seven truck series races of this season, the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway and then the full Nextel Cup schedule next year. Villeneuve also will drive in the remaining Car of Tomorrow test sessions.

Montoya believes it will be a difficult transition for Villeneuve, who has not raced since he was fired from BMW-Sauber last summer.

"I think it will take him a little bit of time," Montoya said. "It's going to take him some testing, and it will depend on how much the team is behind him. That will all really make a difference in how good he is going to be."

Montoya said he's willing to help Villeneuve and will seek him out when the two cross paths at a race track.

Coming from the same open wheel background and the same former series, the two will have a unique bond when compared to the other NASCAR drivers.

"There will be something there," Montoya said. "I don't know how big or how small, but we have a lot of things in common. Jacques is very cool, he's changed a lot since I first knew him. He's like a kid. He's always buying music. I look forward to him getting here."

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