TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – Juan Pablo Montoya got the easy part out of the way, qualifying second Thursday for his stock-car debut in the ARCA Food World 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Now, the former Formula One star finds out how he fares in heavy stock-car traffic.

“Qualifying here makes your life easy,” the former Indianapolis 500 champion said. “It makes you look really good, because you were flat (out) the whole time. They told me come out of the pits and just floor it and run as high as you can. And when you’ve got to start the second lap, just aim at the apron and stay low.

“That’s all you’ve got to do.”

Bobby Gerhart won the pole with a fast lap of 189.485 in the No. 5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet on the 2.66-mile tri-oval. Montoya clocked a lap of 189.451 in the No. 4 Texaco-Havoline Dodge ahead of today’s race.

The 31-year-old Montoya, set to become the first F1 driver to join NASCAR fulltime next year, is driving for NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi.

“When I came here and tested, I had a really good car and the guys back in the shop did an amazing job,” Montoya said. “I think I’ve got a good, competitive car for tomorrow. The main goal is to prepare myself for next year.

“I’m probably going to get caught out a couple of times making the wrong moves, but that’s part of the learning curve.”

Montoya, who drove for McLaren in F1, will replace Casey Mears in the No. 42 Dodge next season on the Nextel Cup circuit.

“I don’t know why but I’m really comfortable in the Cup cars,” he said. “The shifting is not a problem. Yes, it takes a lot longer to slow down.”

That’s the hardest thing so far.

“Here, you come out of turn 4 you’ve got to brake, and it’s like, ‘Ew, stop.’ And you don’t think you’re going to stop. That’s pretty hard.”

The hardest part of Montoya’s afternoon was waiting about 30 minutes while the crew tweaked his car to pass inspection, wearing dark shades and chatting with crew chief Brad Parrott while father Pablo looked on.

He even posed for a souvenir photo as they finished.

Montoya said he won’t be nervous about starting out at a track noted for thrilling finishes – and scary wrecks.

“It’s racing. If it happens, it happens. I’m not going to worry about it,” he said. “I got my first crash out of the way. I did that in Kentucky a couple of days ago. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, so I’m pleased with that.”

Gerhart, meanwhile, won the pole for the eighth time in his career. Mostly he was asked about Montoya at his post-qualifying news conference.

“What it shows is there’s a class of competitors in this series that take what they do very seriously,” he said. “There’s no doubt of the caliber driver he is. He’s going to win his share of races. There’s going to be no gifts whatsoever, especially in showcase places like this.”


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