Watch CBSN Live

Montoya's Daytona Debut A Struggle

Juan Pablo Montoya gave an early indication of how his first Daytona 500 was going when he keyed the radio to tell his crew, "We're in trouble."

Stuck in the back half of the pack for much of the afternoon because of handling problems with his No. 42 car, Montoya's highly anticipated Daytona 500 debut turned out to be a shoulder-shrugging disappointment.

The former Formula One star complained to his crew about his car's handling all afternoon, and they weren't able to fix it with adjustments during pit stops. Montoya ran outside the top 20 for most of the day and finished 19th unofficially.

So much for Montoya mania _ this week, anyway.

"It started really bad," Montoya said. "We were really tight, and we were struggling. The car was so bad, and I don't know what happened."

The Colombian star left the prestigious McLaren Formula One team late last year to make the switch to NASCAR. He reunited with team owner Chip Ganassi, who once fielded cars for Montoya in open-wheel racing.

The Ganassi team, which has not won a race since the 2002 season, is looking for a spark from its new star. NASCAR officials are hoping Montoya's arrival will provide diversity and star power that will help the series draw in more mainstream sports fans.

The international media has followed Montoya's every move all week. At least a dozen cameras followed him this weekend as he alternated between English and Spanish in interview sessions.

Until Sunday, they weren't disappointed. Despite having very little experience in stock cars, Montoya had been impressive during Daytona Speedweeks.

When his car was working, that is.

Montoya's first Daytona experience came last month on the road course, when he helped the Ganassi team to a win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona _ the most prestigious sports car event in North America.

Montoya proved to be a quick study once NASCAR hit the track, too.

Montoya led 18 laps in a qualifying race Thursday before his right-front wheel hub broke, putting him out after 24 laps. He still got a starting spot in the race because his team finished in the top 35 in owner points last season.

And Montoya ran competitively in Saturday's Busch Series race, but he again completed just 24 laps before his engine failed.

With such limited on-track time in the draft, Montoya came into Sunday without much of an idea what he was going to face. But the way his car was handling Sunday, all the track time in the world might not have made a difference.

And Montoya wasn't afraid to tell his crew about it.

On lap 51, Montoya radioed his crew to complain about the car being tight, meaning it wouldn't turn as easily as Montoya wanted it to. Crew chief Donnie Wingo replied, "Long, long way to go. We'll get it fixed up."

They tried to make a suspension adjustment on the next stop, but it didn't seem to help.

"Tight again!," Montoya radioed on lap 82. "So tight again. Crazy."

Montoya wasn't the only one having problems in traffic. Even Tony Stewart, who was shuffled to the back because of a pit road speeding penalty, said it was difficult to pass.

"We couldn't pass anybody," Stewart said, after a crash with Kurt Busch ended his day.

Montoya still was running seven-tenths of a second off the pace and didn't crack the top 30 until well after the race's halfway point.

By then, he seemed resigned to running in the back, and his trademark indifferent shoulder shrug almost could be heard over the radio.

"Too tight," he sighed on lap 152. "I don't know."