After IndyCar's announcement Tuesday of a $5m bonus for an “outsider” from the IZOD IndyCar Series to win its new season finale at Las Vegas, Juan Pablo Montoya – an Indy 500 and CART champion before his departure to Formula 1 and, now, NASCAR, was among the first candidate widely tipped to take up IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's challenge. Asked about it on arrival for this weekend's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, however, Montoya played down prospects for his participation, even though he has an obvious “in” since he drives for Chip Ganassi.
The Colombian focused on the difficulties of racing at Las Vegas on the same weekend as the Sprint Cup Chase race in Charlotte, even though that race is being run on Saturday night, and the IndyCar event is scheduled for the following day. Then again, he didn't give a definitive no.
“Let's not even talk about if I would like to do it or not – it's just impossible logistics-wise,” Montoya said. “If you really were going to go to try to win the five million bucks, you would have to get all the practices down and do it right. And I think we are racing that weekend aren't we?
“Initially, I would say no. It's intriguing – and I think it's intriguing for a lot of people. I think a lot of people are going ‘ohhhh,' but being realistic, it's impossible. Are you going to show up on Sunday and race without practice and hope for the best? Who the heck is going to win that?”
Warming to his theme, Montoya expanded on the logistical problems involved: "It's a three-hour difference [between Charlotte and Las Vegas] and it's about a four to five-hour flight. Is it feasible at all? Let's say you practice Saturday morning in Vegas – you've got to be done practicing at what time because it's going to be in a five-hour flight to Charlotte plus a three-hour time difference, it's eight hours! What time does the Charlotte race start...?
"So it means I would have to start in the back of the field at Charlotte even if I made it to the race. Because if you think about eight hours, if the race is at 6:00 [p.m.] I need to be in the plane at 10:00 [in Vegas] in the morning. Ain't going to happen. It means I will have to leave the track at 9:00 or 9:15 if we go in a helicopter.
"It's true, the proposal is pretty freaking cool. Who is going to say no to $5 million bucks that easy?"
Montoya tipped Sam Hornish Jr. and Robby Gordon, both ex-open-wheel racers, as favorites to go for the bonus. Hornish is currently competing in the Nationwide series for Penske, while Gordon races for his own team in Cup.
"Being realistic, I think Hornish would be a guy that could do it," said Montoya. "He's still involved with Penske and he runs Nationwide, so he would have Saturday and Sunday to be there. He would run Friday night. I don't even know if he has a full schedule in Nationwide.
"Him or Robby Gordon would be the two names you would throw out there on the table that actually have time to do it and not the commitment here."
Tony Stewart, a former IRL champion before turning to NASCAR and who has also done a one-off at the Indy 500 with Ganassi, also played down suggestions he would like to make a run for IndyCar's Vegas gold.
“I would love to say that I would love to go do it, obviously, but it's the same thing as running the Indy 500," Stewart said. "If you don't run three or four races, you're probably not going to have a shot to win it anyway. Just going to do a one-off deal doesn't make sense for us to do right now.”
By contrast, Paul Menard – whose father fielded a winning IndyCar team in the early years of the IRL, with Stewart as one of his drivers – seemed intrigued by the possibility, although he admitted it would be a major change of pace.
“I don't think I'd fit in one of those things," he mused of the current IndyCar Dallara. "Those guys are really small. But it's worth thinking about, for sure. I drove one a few years ago and they're totally different than what we do, but it's worth doing.”