McLaren replaces Montoya, who's moving to NASCAR

Updated: July 11, 2006, 11:49 AM ET
Associated Press

WOKING, England -- Juan Pablo Montoya is leaving McLaren-Mercedes immediately, after deciding to switch to NASCAR next season. He'll be replaced by test driver Pedro de la Rosa for the rest of the Formula One season.

Juan Pablo Montoya fast facts
Juan Pablo Montoya
• Will drive No. 42 Dodge in NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2007.
• Best 2006 finish was second place at Grand Prix of Monaco.
• Won Grand Prix on Monaco in 2003.
• Joined Formula One in 2001.
• Won 2000 Indianapolis 500 in first attempt.
• Became youngest CART Series champion in 1999 at age 24.

"Team McLaren Mercedes and Juan Pablo Montoya have mutually agreed for him to step down in the forthcoming races of this year's Formula 1 World Championship," McLaren CEO and chairman Ron Dennis said Tuesday. "We have agreed that with so many things happening in Juan Pablo's life right now, he should take some time out of the car and prepare professionally and personally for the future."

On Sunday, Montoya said he would be leaving F1 at the end of the season for the Nextel Cup series.

Chip Ganassi, the team owner who signed Montoya to the NASCAR deal, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he does not yet know the details of the driver's release from McLaren.

"But if Juan is available earlier than we expected, our program for him will definitely get an early start," Ganassi said.

In making the announcement Sunday, Ganassi said that Montoya would likely make a few starts in the Busch Series after the F1 season ends in October. Asked Tuesday if the possibility of having Montoya in NASCAR earlier than expected means he also could run a few Nextel Cup events this year, Ganassi said, "It's certainly possible, but that's about the third or fourth step in this whole situation. We need to know all the details first before we start making plans."

De la Rosa will race alongside Kimi Raikkonen at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

"I know the MP4-21 [car] better than anyone else and I'm confident that I can achieve important world championship points for the team," De la Rosa said.

The 35-year-old Spaniard raced for Jaguar in 2001 and 2002, and finished fifth at the Bahrain Grand Prix last year when Montoya was injured.

"I know that it will be a tough transition, but I'm really excited about the opportunity to move into the NASCAR championship," Montoya said Tuesday. "I have enjoyed most of my time in Formula 1 and I'm grateful for this opportunity to settle my personal life and concentrate on my future career."

Montoya, who was sixth in this year's F1 championship, had seven victories in 95 starts in F1.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press