Indy drivers turned NASCAR pilots have faced steep learning curve

Sam HornishThey switched to NASCAR with suitcases full of IndyCar championships and race wins. Predictably, the success that Sam Hornish Jr., Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya had in open-wheel racing has not immediately transferred. Hornish is 33rd in the Sprint Cup points standings, while Franchitti is 38th. Both are in their first full seasons in the Cup series. Patrick Carpentier, also a Cup rookie, is 41st.

Montoya, in his second Cup season, is 17th in points, but he has no top-10 finishes this year.

Driving stock cars is a different animal compared to the lighter, faster Indy cars. What you hear most from these newcomers to NASCAR is “learning curve” and “slow process.”

“This year is going to be a difficult, a learning year,” Franchitti said last week after finishing 11th in the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix. “Each week is a learning experience.”

Asked how far he is from running the No. 40 Dodge in the top 10 at most races, last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner said, “I’ve got some work to do as a driver and we’ve got work to do on pit stops.”

Franchitti’s best finish this season is a 22nd at Martinsville. Hornish’s top finish in the No. 77 Dodge was 15th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Veteran Cup racers expect the former open-wheelers to be competitive soon.

“Sam has showed a lot of speed,” two-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said in a Tuesday conference call. “I see Dario improving every week and, really, in the course of a weekend. He’s trying to be smart and smooth and taking care of his car. By the end of the race he’s up to speed.

“I’m sure it’s extremely difficult for those guys. They’re all established open-wheel drivers.

“I feel for them and respect them so much, to walk away from what they were doing – they were race winners and champions – to do something else. That’s really a bold move.”

Indy drivers turned NASCAR pilots have faced steep learning curve

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