Montoya: Schumacher a ‘nobody’ in America


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Michael Schumacher apparently can’t understand why Juan Pablo Montoya would leave Formula One for NASCAR.

Montoya, for his part, doesn’t seem to care what the seven-time world champion thinks.

“Schumacher in America is nobody,” said Montoya, who’s steadily building on an already strong United States fan base.

Montoya, preparing his new Dodge Charger this week for the Daytona 500, was responding to comments Schumacher made last weekend.

“Personally, I wouldn’t do it,” Schumacher told the New York Times. “What do you do in NASCAR? What is exciting there? I can’t see that, running around on ovals.”

Although Montoya said he thinks Schumacher could make the transition, he said he’s learned firsthand that stock cars are much harder than his former F1 foes believe.

“People don’t understand what a big challenge this style of racing is,” Montoya said. “Michael Schumacher, just take him to Homestead (Fla.) and tell him to stay half a second off the pace. He would have a heart attack.”

Montoya is proving to be a fast study, pacing Tuesday morning’s test session with a fast lap at 184.574 mph. David Stremme, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was second at 184.479.

The two held their own in the afternoon drafting session, with Montoya running 15th and Stremme 18th.

The confident Colombian, who won a CART championship and the Indianapolis 500 before moving to F1, said he believes experience would give him the edge on Schumacher should the two ever go door-to-door in NASCAR.

“It would be a hard transition (for Schumacher) for sure,” he said. “It’s not an easy transition. I had the advantage that I raced two years of ovals and did a little bit of stock cars with little ones when I started my career. All that really helps.”

ESPN arrives

NASCAR is hoping ESPN’s return to the sport will jump-start sagging TV ratings, and the network is revving up its efforts with an aggressive brand campaign that debuted this week.

The first part of the campaign includes a music video of race fans and drivers in the moments leading up to the green flag. A second ad shows young fans’ need for speed, and a third focuses on the importance of family in NASCAR’s culture. All conclude with the slogan: NASCAR: ESPN. It’s the Life.

A second campaign highlighting the network’s daily news show “NASCAR Now” will begin on Jan. 29, and the third campaign, which features Busch Series drivers, debuts Feb. 5. ESPN will place a large emphasis on the Busch Series, which will be televised in its entirety on its networks.

“The overall intention is to generate an awareness and excitement in NASCAR and its return to ESPN,” said George McNeilly, director of ESPN communications. “We hope it demonstrates our deep understanding of the sport and its passionate fans. The campaign is to appeal to anyone who is currently a NASCAR fan, or will soon be.”

ESPN was one of the first networks to help build NASCAR but was shut out in 2001, when NASCAR inked its first major TV deal. ESPN’s back under an eight-year contract that divides the Nextel Cup series between four different networks.

Television ratings suffered last season – the numbers were down in all but five of the 36 races – and many believe NBC’s apathetic promotional in its final year of coverage played a large role.

No hex for Hamlin

Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards both fell victim to NASCAR’s dreaded sophomore slump.

Denny Hamlin is hoping to avoid that same curse.

Hamlin, last season’s rookie of the year, said the strength of his Joe Gibbs Racing team will help.

“A slump is more a team as a whole,” Hamlin said. “Roush was really on top of their game in Carl’s so-called rookie year, and they didn’t perform as well last year, and it showed through their whole program. You’ve just got to minimize those peaks and valleys that you’re going to have as a race team. Gibbs has done a good job of that, maintaining a steady level.”

Hamlin had one of the best rookie seasons in NASCAR history, with two victories and a spot in the Chase for the championship. He finished third in the final point standings, the second-best finish in NASCAR history for a rookie.

PIT STOPS: Ryan Newman led Tuesday’s second testing session, giving Dodge a sweep for the day. David Ragan, the rookie who replaced Mark Martin at Roush Racing, was second fastest. … James Hylton, the 72-year-old veteran who’s attempting a comeback, was 56th on the speed chart after a seven-lap run in the morning session. He wasn’t the slowest, though, as Carl Edwards brought up the rear. Hylton did not participate in drafting practice. … The engine in Kurt Busch’s “B” car blew up 30 laps into the afternoon run. His Penske Racing Team plans to test the Car of Tomorrow on Wednesday.

AP-ES-01-16-07 1810EST