TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – Maybe these stock cars won’t be so hard for Juan Pablo Montoya, after all.

The Formula One defector completed an impressive stock car racing debut Friday night, overcoming an early accident to finish third in the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I never had so much fun in my life,” Montoya said. “It’s freaky. You are always on the edge, but it was fun.”

The race was called because of darkness 14 laps from the finish, interrupting a debate Montoya was having with his Chip Ganassi Racing team on whether or not he should try to run down Frank Kimmel and Steve Wallace for the win.

Asked afterward what he thought about his new driver’s first race, Ganassi was blunt.

“I thought the race stopped a little short for me,” the car owner said.

But other than that?

“It was mission accomplished, it what was what we came here to do and more,” Ganassi said. “He went to the back, he came back to the front. My biggest nightmare was that he would end up leading every lap here today.”

And it looked early like he might.

Montoya started second, but worked his No. 4 Dodge around polesitter Bobby Gerhart on the backstretch of the first lap. The Colombian stayed there for nine trips around the 2.66-mile superspeedway before Gerhart reclaimed the lead and took a pack of traffic with him past Montoya.

“For a rookie he did pretty good,” said Kimmel, the winner. “You knew he would come in here and do well. I think it bodes well for the ARCA series that he didn’t come in here and dominate.”

Montoya was pushed back to third after the pass, then settled into the traffic to experience drafting. Although his car was clearly superior to almost everyone else in the field, his team told him to stay put in the pack and resist the urge to power to the front.

It should have been smooth sailing from there, but a spinning Bryan Silas slammed directly into his right side to cause some serious damage 36 laps in. Montoya used a fantastic save to keep his own car from spinning out of control, and headed to the pits for some quick repairs.

He’d been in the top 10 before the accident, but was 36th after.

From there it was a lesson on working his way through traffic and figuring out who to team with.

“Do you want me to work with 31?” he asked.

“He’s a lap down,” spotter Lorin Ranier said.

“Oh good, he can help us then,” Montoya replied.

His Ganassi team used the race to help Montoya learn the lingo of NASCAR, which is very simplistic compared to the high-tech world of F1.

“Go ahead and give it a little air,” crew chief Brad Parrott instructed Montoya at one point.

“That means put your nose out there if you can,” Ranier quickly explained.

“Not at the moment,” Montoya replied as he drafted through the traffic. “A little busy right now.”

For Ganassi, who won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 with Montoya, it was like a flashback to six years ago and the last time the two teamed together.

“He was just like I remembered,” Ganassi said. “He can be funny. He’s smart. And he’s all business.”

Montoya didn’t hesitate to mix it up with the other drivers, including a series of bump drafts on Wallace, the 19-year-old son of former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace.

, who was making his own superspeedway debut.

Wallace was thrilled with the experience.

“He’s Juan Montoya. He’s from Formula One,” he delighted. “It was definitely fun to race with one of the best drivers in the world, in the ARCA Series, in of all places Talladega, Alabama.”

Montoya seemed disenchanted at the end of his F1 career by the politically charged series that often doesn’t emphasize the racing. But after passing what he estimated to be 40 cars – more than he passed in all five years of F1 – he said his passion for racing had returned.

“What a great experience – I haven’t had this much fun in a race in a long time,” he said.

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