Montoya ready for Daytona 500 debut

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Juan Pablo Montoya is all set to make his debut at Sunday's Daytona 500.

Updated: March 22, 2007 06:37 IST
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Daytona Beach:

Juan Pablo Montoya led 18 laps in an exhibition race at Daytona, but a mechanical problem ended his early. The former Formula One star could have used Saturday's Busch Series race as a cram session, but his motor failed after just 25 laps. Now he enters Sunday's Daytona 500 with just a fraction of the track time he expected. Montoya will start 36th in Sunday's race. While he was expected to have an intense spotlight on him during the 11 days of Daytona's Speedweeks, it was dimmed by a cheating scandal that snared five different teams. It gave Montoya a bit of peace - at least until the international media arrived. NASCAR, however, will not be disappointed with the attention paid to the Columbian. In fact, it basking in the crossover appeal into the Hispanic market that Montoya creates, and it's a boon to sponsor Texaco-Havoline and manufacturer Dodge. Media attention Yet all the attention can create intense pressure for a driver who, despite his open-wheel accomplishments, is expected to take some lumps in stock cars. "I think I am going to disappoint a lot of reporters because I don't really read too much. I look at the pictures, but I try not to read too much about what people say because you need to focus on what you are doing," he said. "You cannot build in your mind 'Oh, they say I am great so I am great.' No, you are great because you drive great. But you still need to prove yourself on the race track," he added. Montoya could do that on Sunday with a win. A victory would put his name next to Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt as the only drivers to win the two most prestigious races in the United States - the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Battling history Although no rookie has won the 500, Montoya proved to be a quick study last month when he helped his Ganassi team to a win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the most prestigious sports car event in North America. That victory put Montoya in the record books, where he joined Andretti as the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500, a CART title, a Formula One race and the Daytona sports car endurance event. Ganassi has been pleased with Montoya's quick adaptation to the cars, and how easily he moved into a mentor role for Sorenson and fellow teammate David Stremme. "Even with Juan's lack of knowledge with these cars, he's ascended quickly to a leader with our young guys. He still has the maturity of a veteran driver, and he's got his arm around these young guys bringing them on," Ganassi said. Most importantly, Montoya's presence also has sparked a team that has not won a race since the 2002 season.

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  • Formula 1
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