Juan Pablo Montoya in a unique position in history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

His name: Juan Pablo Montoya. His sport: NASCAR.

His future: bright.

Colombia native Juan Pablo Montoya got his 2007 season off to a hot start over the weekend as the newly signed Chip Ganassi driver took home the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona race, along with teammates Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran.

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While the Rolex race was far from the grind of the Nextel Cup Series, Montoya did defeat the likes of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

The Rolex race is also nothing compared to the 500-mile race on the high banks of Daytona, but three drivers splitting a 24-hour race is no walk in the park either.

When Ganassi signed away Montoya from the F-1 series last summer, many people turned their heads to see what all the fuss was about but quickly turned back to the Cup season in progress to watch those drivers with proven Cup records.

Montoya's entrance into the sport has been much like Toyota's entrance in that it has seen mixed reviews of people who want the sport Americanized and people who want to see the sport go global.

For years the debate has waged on concerning which form of drivers are the best: NASCAR, F-1 or Indy.

With a proven driver like Montoya signing with NASCAR, he has shown that drivers around the world see the challenge of racing stock cars, but few are man enough to take that challenge.

Montoya has taken that challenge and, in a way, will determine the future of foreign drivers to come.

There have been several drivers over the years who are not from the United States, but none have come into the sport with such a premier ride and with such a thunderous entrance.

Because of his record and reputation, Montoya's place in history will not be determined by how much he wins but rather how quickly he does it.

If the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is any indication of that, Montoya should be winning sooner rather than later.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate.com or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.