Montoya's faithful followers now NASCAR fans, too

They loved him in CART. They followed him in Formula One. And now they adore him in NASCAR Nextel Cup. Where Juan Pablo Montoya goes, so go his fans, Marty Smith writes in Door-To-Door.

Updated: July 5, 2007, 7:18 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

In the year since Chip Ganassi announced to the world that Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya would drive his No. 42 Dodge in 2007, many pundits, myself included, have pondered what effect a star of such international celebrity might have on NASCAR racing.

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I distinctly remember saying he could do for NASCAR what Tiger Woods did for golf. I also distinctly remember saying it'd be two or three years before he sniffed a win.

He needed all of 17 races.

And this week, I got a glimpse of insight into what that means, by way of an e-mail from a Colombian F1-turned-NASCAR fan and his nine closest buddies. Check it out. There's a definite "wow" factor in reading it.

Marty,

Just to describe you the picture I had last Sunday at home. Ten guys between 35 and 40 years cheering madly for Montoya at Sonoma, nothing different if you consider that many NASCAR fans were doing the same for their favorite drivers around the U.S.

The only difference is that we were not drinking Budweiser -- we had some shots of aguardiente -- and we were sitting in our home's family room in Bogotá, Colombia. Not Columbia, but Colombia, a South American country that is used to waking up early and watching Formula One or having soccer afternoons.

We are part of a big group of racing fans who have followed Montoya first when he replaced [Alex] Zanardi at Ganassi Racing through CART'S last golden years, then turned our heads to Formula One and nowadays are thirsty for information about NASCAR.

Hey, we all bought NASCAR '07 for Xbox for our kids (Yeah, we also need excuses with our wives). So when you write your very interesting columns for ESPN have in mind this group of racing fans. We are far away, but we exist over here and we went to Daytona and are going to Indy. That's if we don't change our minds and go to The Glen for obvious reasons.

Hey with this kind of fun in NASCAR, believe me that Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart are taking Fernando Alonso and Michael Schu... place. Michael Schu... Michael Schu... Michael Schu... . I guess I'm starting to forget that name ... Michael Schu ... something.

So if you are searching for evidence that proves NASCAR is growing, try to find out why I stopped using Mobil and turned to Texaco in my cars, not to mention the new Dodge my cousin bought in Miami -- we also have the auto racing disease.

-- Alfonso, Bogotá, Colombia

Alfonso and his boys weren't alone. At Sonoma, as Montoya bathed in bubbly in Victory Lane, a group of some 10 Colombian fans, hanging over the railing and screaming in delight, waved his native Colombian flag.

Marty,

I just read your column about the COT's effect on the job status of the body guys, etc. Great article. I have a question that kind of goes with that.

Haas Engineering is investing a ton of money in a rolling wind tunnel. If the Cup teams can't alter the body, will they have any use for the new wind tunnel? I could see this as a blow to Haas' business, and they would have to rely on business from other racing series.

-- Travis Rassat, hometown unknown

Stellar question, Travis. I know NASCAR would like to cut down on wind-tunnel time, but I'm not certain it'll happen. Joe Custer, Haas/CNC Racing general manager, told me they feel like the wind tunnel might even become more important.

Because the box in which teams may work is smaller, even the minutest advantages are accentuated. Custer explained that while a winning car today may have a 3- to 5-percent advantage, COTs in the future may only have a 1 percent advantage. Therefore precise tools will be required to make gains -- including, in Custer's opinion, the wind tunnel.

Marty,

Love the column. Why wouldn't NASCAR let DEI and Hendrick reach a deal to let the No. 8 follow Dale Earnhardt Jr.? To me, it seems NASCAR is trying to become part of this story when it should let the 8 follow its most popular driver if Hendrick and DEI can reach an agreement.

-- Brian, Spokane, Wash.

It's NASCAR's sandbox, man. They're always a part of the story.

As far as the No. 8 goes, NASCAR will allow it, Brian. See, NASCAR owns every car number and leases them to teams annually. Since DEI has fielded the No. 8 every year since 1999, NASCAR offers them last right of refusal on the opportunity to run it the following year.

So if DEI is willing to reach a financial arrangement with Hendrick to fork over the rights to the NASCAR license to the No. 8, then NASCAR won't get in the way of the transfer of the number to Hendrick.

Marty,

Last weekend I caught the end of some guy on Speed talking about a bike Tony Stewart is selling. What's the story on those bikes? I think Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne have one too. Is this a charity deal or what?

-- Calvin Corver, Miami

Here's the abridged version, Calvin: Sunoco collaborated with the Orange Country Choppers to design custom bikes for Johnson, Kahne, Stewart and Earnhardt Jr.

Customers who collect hero cards of all four drivers between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, 2007 will have the opportunity to win and customize their own OCC bike. Pretty cool program.

Marty,

You said that you had a friend who works for Evernham Motorsports. I'm curious if he's shared with you why those Evernham Dodges aren't running up front as much as they did last year.

I'm a huge Evernham Fan and I'm just a lil' confused on how a team can win six races one year then struggle the next? What factors can contribute to this change?

-- Brad Endicott, New York

That's just it, Brad -- EMS doesn't know either. They're pulling their hair out trying to solve the mystery, too.

They're struggling to achieve the proper balance with the new Charger nose. The 2007 Charger is not the same car they won all those races with last year. The nose is different, which dramatically changes the aerodynamic tendencies of the car. They're behind and are struggling to catch up.

They've been decent at times with the Car of Tomorrow, though. Elliott Sadler had a great car at Bristol and was fast at Sonoma, as well.

Marty,

Do you think anybody else can get in the No. 8 without being pelted with beer cans or worse?

-- Larry Gilbert, Arizona

Oh, certainly, Larry. Don't forget, it was Junior's decision to leave the No. 8. It's not like he was fired.

Plus, I truly believe an arrangement will be made to move the No. 8 to Hendrick next year, anyway.

That's all for this week. My lawn beckons. It looks like a hayfield. Maybe I should just buy some goats.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.