Montoya move could give Hamilton chance

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The up-and-coming British racer Lewis Hamilton has moved a step closer to joining Fernando Alonso at McLaren-Mercedes next year following Juan Pablo Montoya's unexpected decision to turn his back on Formula One and go to Nascar racing in 2007.

Montoya took the Formula One world by surprise when he announced his plans at the weekend to drive for Chip Ganassi's Texaco Havoline Nascar stock car team. He previously won the CART open-wheel championship for Ganassi in 1999 and the Indianapolis 500 for his team in 2000, before displacing Jenson Button at BMW-Williams in 2001. He won seven grands prix, four with BMW-Williams and three with McLaren, whom he joined in 2005. But his mercurial character prevented him from fulfilling his abundant potential. He had some options to stay in Formula One, but chose a new challenge.

"When people think of moving from Formula One to Nascar, some think I'm crazy, but I think it's exciting," Montoya said. "It's a great challenge for my career. Coming here is probably going to be my toughest challenge. One weekend you can be up front and the next weekend you can be terrible. You have 36 races and race against really great guys, and sometimes people don't know how tough it is out here and how many great drivers are out here."

Montoya is not the first Formula One driver to go the way of Nascar. Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti were all equally proficient in both disciplines.