Open-wheelers no strangers to NASCAR

Former Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya made NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time this year, and then days after the season ended, Izod IndyCar Series driver Dania Patrick announced plans to compete in a limited Nationwide schedule next year.

But while the two high-profile drivers may be bringing new attention to the motorsports crossover, they’re far from the only drivers to attempt to make the transition from open-wheel racing to NASCAR. For years, drivers with Formula One, IndyCar and Championship Auto Racing Teams backgrounds have either dabbled or completely transitioned into NASCAR drivers, sometimes enjoying considerable success.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most notable crossovers from those series into NASCAR events:

1. A.J. Foyt

Foyt is clearly best known for his open-wheel prowess.

He competed in 35 Indianapolis 500s as a driver and has continued to be a factor in IndyCar’s premier race as a team owner. He holds IndyCar Series records for career wins (67), national championships (seven) and most wins in a season (10). In NASCAR ranks, that would make him Richard Petty. He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977.

He wasn’t satisfied to just run only those events, however, and took the occasional run in a stock car, with solid results. He has seven Cup wins to his credit, including the 1972 Daytona 500. He is the only driver to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

2. Mario Andretti

Andretti was successful in whatever type of machine he was racing.

He was a four-time CART champion, a Formula One champion and a three-time winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring, among his storied list of accomplishments. He showed the ability to snare the big wins, even when he dabbled in NASCAR, winning both the Indianapolis 500 and the 1967 Daytona 500.

Andretti is revered in many racing circles for his open-wheel success, but he clearly showed the ability to move into the heavier-bodied stock cars with relative ease in the handful of Cup races he ran.

3. Tony Stewart

In terms of NASCAR success, Stewart outranks everyone.

Stewart’s big-time racing career started in the open-wheel ranks, where he won the 1997 IndyCar Series title. An Indianapolis 500 win proved to be elusive, though, and the driver kept returning to the series to attempt that race while also competing in NASCAR.

In stock cars, he has won two NASCAR Cup titles and 33 races, a mark that clearly eclipses all others who have made the transition. Stewart was the 1999 rookie of the year and the 2002 and 2005 Cup champion. He has finished in the top 10 in the standings nine of his 10 seasons of full-time competition. In addition, he has now moved into the ranks of an owner/driver.

4. Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya was part of a recent open-wheel invasion into NASCAR, but he proved to have the talent and discipline to patiently take his time in making the transition.

Montoya was an open-wheel star before making the move. He spent two seasons in CART, winning the title in his rookie 1999 campaign and earning 10 career wins in the series. He won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 in his first start in the race. He then moved to Formula One, where he finished sixth or better in each of his five full seasons. He won the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix in the series, one of seven wins in the series.

Then he moved into NASCAR full time in 2007, winning on the Infineon Raceway road course in his first year. This season, Montoya made NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time – and the first time for team co-owner Chip Ganassi – and finished eighth in the series standings.

5. Dan Gurney

Gurney was the first of two drivers to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR and major sports-car events.

And only three – Gurney, Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya – have won in Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR.

Gurney spent 11 seasons in Formula One racing, earning seven victories. He also won seven IndyCar races and finished as the runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 twice. In NASCAR, he ran a few races a season for 16 years, earning five victories.

6. Robby Gordon

Name it, and Gordon seems intrigued by the idea of racing it.

Gordon earned a pair of wins in the CART series and went on to field his own team for the Indianapolis 500 in some seasons. He’s one of three drivers, including Stewart and John Andretti, to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day and in 1999 came within a lap of winning the 500 before running out of fuel.

In the Cup series, Gordon earned the first of his three wins in the 2001 race at New Hampshire. He has driven full time for Richard Childress Racing and his own team in the Cup ranks. His top season came in 2003, when he won two races and finished 16th in the standings driving for RCR.

7. John Andretti

The driver had little chance of being anything other than a racer.

Growing up as the son of Aldo Andretti, twin brother of Mario Andretti, John Andretti had racing in his life from the start. He competed in CART from 1987 through 1994, making 73 starts and earning a win. He finished eighth in the series standings in 1991 and 1992.

Then he moved to NASCAR, where he would eventually compete for Petty Enterprises and win a pair of races. Andretti still has a foot in both worlds, competing for Front Row Motorsports in Cup this season while also running the Indianapolis 500 and select open-wheel races.

8. Johnny Rutherford

Rutherford was known for his prowess at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The driver won three Indianapolis 500s (1974, ’76 and ’80), two from the pole, and is credited with 27 career wins in the open-wheel cars. He won the 1980 CART title and then decided to compete in some NASCAR events.

He won in his first outing in a qualifying race at Daytona, an event that in 1963 counted as a series victory. He is a member of multiple halls of fame for his success in various racing series.

9. Parnelli Jones

Jones, born in 1933, was a versatile racer of the future Robby Gordon variety.

He won races in sports cars, Indy cars, sprint cars, midget cars, off-road vehicles and stock cars. In the open-wheel ranks, he earned six career wins – including the 1963 Indianapolis 500 – and 12 pole positions.

He began competing in stock cars in 1956, running a limited schedule off and on through 1970. He made a total of 34 Cup starts, winning four times.

10. Tim Richmond

Richmond may be a surprise entrant on the list, but he made a highly successful transition into NASCAR after a beginning in the IndyCar ranks.

Richmond was named the rookie of the race in the 1980 Indianapolis 500. He led a lap in that race but ran out of gas to finish ninth. He is widely reported to have been given a ride back to the pits by winner Johnny Rutherford.

Soon afterwards, Richmond transitioned to stock cars, competing in five races in 1980. He ran full time in the series the next six seasons and then eight races in 1987. Richmond earned 13 wins in 185 starts and finished third in the 1986 standings. He died in 1989.

Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.