NASCAR Pit Stop
Open wheel drivers struggle
By Jeff Findley
After eight races this season, it seems the influx of open wheel drivers into the world of NASCAR isn’t going completely as planned. Of the six drivers with recent open wheel experience, Juan Montoya sits highest in the points standings at 17th, even though he has not posted a top-10 finish in 2008.
The other five driver’s performances can be labeled nothing but disappointing. Sam Hornish, Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villenueve have each won the Indy 500, including the last two, but none are higher than 33rd in the points standings. In fact, Villenueve did not make the field for the Daytona 500 and has not attempted a race since with Bill Davis Racing.
But Villenueve is not the only open wheel newcomer to lose his ride. AJ Allmendinger was replaced in the Red Bull No. 84 Toyota by veteran cup and truck series driver Mike Skinner at Atlanta after failed to make a race in the young season. At the time, the team said that Skinner would get the car competitive and hopefully in the top 35 and then AJ would return to the seat.
I don’t see that happening. Skinner was qualified that car on time each week since the change. Even though he is averaging only a 30th place finish, Skinner is getting the car in the show and that is huge.
As for Franchitti and Hornish, rumors were put to rest this week that neither will compete in the 2008 Indy 500. The rumors surfaced in relation to Hornish after Penske South hired former Ganassi driver David Stremme as a test driver. That hire in addition to Penske entering a no 77 car in the Indy 500, the same number that Hornish drives in the Cup series.
With that being said, much can change quickly and I wouldn’t be shocked to see one if not both of these guys competing at Indy on the Sunday before Memorial Day. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see one, if not both, of these guys return to open wheel racing before the NASCAR season ends.
With the tough season of these open wheel drivers, look for one to win the Nationwide this weekend. NASCAR travels to Mexico City for the fourth time this week to the 2.51 mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course. Juan Montoya won his first stock car race last year at this race; I think he wins it again.
In fact, Montoya’s only two victories in NASCAR have been on road tracks, which is not surprising given his past. He also won at Sonoma later in the year in his Cup car. Remember last year when he punted fellow road course ringer and teammate Scott Pruett to win the race? Maybe we can see some of that some excitement this week in what is usually a mundane race on a road course.
Because of traveling to Mexico, the cup guys are off this week, but return in a big way next week at Talladega. Should be fun.
Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke Chowan News Herald, a sister newspaper of The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at jeff.findley@roanoke- chowannewsherald.com.