MARTINSVILLE, Va. _ When Juan Pablo Montoya made the transition from open-wheel racing to NASCAR three years ago, there were a number of concepts he was forced to learn. The adjustment from the sleek, high-tech Formula 1 cars to heavier and boxier stock cars was a hurdle, but perhaps the biggest adjustment Montoya had to make was working with the competition.
In other forms of racing – open-wheel, especially – the competition among drivers and teams is intense both on and off the track. In Formula 1, team owners pour large sums of money into science and engineering and the sharing of tips and advice is rare. The NASCAR garage is a much different place. With teams working in close quarters every week, the atmosphere is friendlier.
“Yeah, it makes no sense,” Montoya said. “There’s something great about this sport. People are really open about it. Once you’re on the race track you are by yourself. You’re on your own. Off the race track you can go to anybody and they’ll help you. That is great to see.”
Montoya said he was struck by just how open other drivers are. The former Indy 500 champion’s first experience with this openness happened early in his transition. Kevin Harvick went to Montoya and gave him a few pieces of unsolicited advice. Said Montoya, “I was like, are you kidding me? You actually came here to help me? … In Formula 1, if you see somebody doing something wrong you probably actually enjoy it and don’t help them.”
Montoya said there is something to learn from everyone in the garage. After tapping the experience of drivers such as Mark Martin during the last three years, Montoya emerged as one of the strongest threats during the first four races of this year’s Chase.
Coming up the ranks in a much different era, Martin has been one of the go-to guys for advice. During his American Speed Association (ASA) days, Martin traded set-ups and techniques with fellow competitors like Rusty Wallace and Dick Trickle. That experience and openness has allowed the 50-year-old veteran to provide honest and sound advice – even to some of his biggest competitors.
With all of the openness and sharing going on in the garage, where do drivers draw the line?
Another open-wheel convert who is trying to make his mark in NASCAR is Italian-born Max Papis. After eight years in the CART Series, two in the IndyCar Series and one year on the F1 circuit, Papis has spent the last four years learning the ropes. Despite his limited knowledge, Papis has scored a top-10 in each of NASCAR’s top three divisions, something he credits partly to the help and advice he has received.
“When I grew up they told you if you want to beat your opposition, you have to hate your opposition,” Papis said before Friday’s Camping World Truck Series practice. “I walk the garage a lot and I’ve felt I’ve built other friendships and there are more people that want to see me successful than people that don’t want to see me successful. This is what I need for me, to lean on people like Jimmie Johnson, that is a friend of mine for over ten years, but it’s great to know you have his full support.”
There is a long checklist of things to adjust to when moving to NASCAR from another series. Perhaps the most important is the relationships drivers have with one another. Until you are confident enough to ask for help and willing enough to listen, you’re not going to have the success you desire.
Is what’s good for Johnson bad for the sport?