NASCAR & Auto Racing

Open-wheel aces face a steep climb in stock cars, reigning Cup champion says

The list of former open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR’s top series seems to grow every day, but reigning Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.

“It's going to take years for these guys to be competitive,” Johnson said.

“I think restrictor-plate racing and road-course racing will come easily for them. But it's going to take them another year or so to get the oval stuff figured out. There's just that whole process that he needs to learn.”

Juan Pablo Montoya won a race on a road course at Infineon Raceway this year. Next year, Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier already have full-time rides in Cup and Sam Hornish Jr. is considering a move from the IndyCar Series. Former Formula One driver Scott Speed is planning to run an Automobile Racing Club of America series schedule, too.

“They're fantastic drivers,” Johnson said.

“But if you took one of us and put us in an F1 car, we'd go out and impress people. To really be there fighting for the win week after week, it takes time to develop those skills and it takes time to understand those cars.”

Johnson said he is glad that stock-car racing seems to be gaining more international exposure. He said that when he went to Europe to race a few years ago drivers there “would just frown” at the idea of racing a stock car.

“When Jeff (Gordon) and I were over there, they wouldn't even pay attention,” Johnson said. “They wouldn't even come and engage in a conversation with us and now these guys are paying close attention to our sport so I'm excited for that.”