Juan Pablo Montoya’s crew took about 45 minutes to become acclimated at Iowa Speedway on Friday morning. Montoya needed far less time to adapt. Turing laps in a stock car for only the second time since announcing his move to NASCAR, the former Formula One and Indianapolis 500 winner posted impressive speeds during an ARCA Series test on the 0.875-mile track.
Montoya ranked third of 18 drivers with a 99.713-mph lap in the morning. After an hourlong break for lunch, he was third fastest in a four-hour afternoon session at 102.727 mph. Former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace, who retired from the Cup series in 2005, and Blake Bjorklund led the session at 103.294 mph. Montoya, who missed most of the first hour of practice while his team fixed a mechanical problem on the car, was surprised by the pace of his learning curve.
He tested Monday at Talladega Superspeedway, a 2.66-mile oval where a driver has much less input on speeds. Wallace, who designed the speedway that sits among cornfields about 40 miles east of Des Moines, was impressed by Montoya and hopes he returns to Iowa Speedway for its ARCA race on Oct. 15.
“To come right out of the box and be right up to speed, there’s no doubt in my mind that Ganassi made the right decision, and you made the right decision to come to NASCAR,” Wallace told Montoya during a break from testing a Rusty Wallace Inc. car as a substitute for his youngest son, Stephen, who was practicing a Busch Series car at Kansas Speedway on Friday. “The fans here really love you, and you have been the buzz around NASCAR. I know it’ll be a winning team. There’s no concerns in my mind about that.”
Montoya will make his first start in a stock car in the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 6. The treacherous 2.66-mile oval also will mark his first experience with racing in traffic. Brad Parrott, who will serve as Montoya’s crew chief for the rest of the season, said the Talladega race would be an important step in Montoya’s development. It’s expected Montoya will spend as much time as possible in a car through the final two months of the season, racing in the ARCA and Busch series and possibly attempting to qualify for the Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19.