NASCAR drivers ponder $5 million IndyCar run at Vegas

Montoya, Stewart play down attempt, but others may be up for it

A few days after INDYCAR announced a $5 million bonus for any driver outside the IZOD IndyCar Series that can win the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR stars with major open-wheel roots got peppered with questions about whether they’d like to make a run at the money.

The Oct. 16 season finale in Vegas comes one day after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Charlotte and while certainly tricky from a logistics standpoint, the task of racing on Saturday night in North Carolina then flying to Las Vegas for a Sunday afternoon IndyCar event isn’t out of the question.

But two of those aforementioned stock car drivers with open-wheel backgrounds aren’t sure if it’d be worth it. Juan Pablo Montoya, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, and Tony Stewart, a former IZOD IndyCar Series champion, tried to downplay any attempt.

Citing logistics and the need to have as much practice in the IndyCar as possible, Montoya told the press at Phoenix International Raceway that the Charlotte/Vegas crossover may be too difficult to pull off — and instead tipped fellow former open-wheelers Sam Hornish Jr. (another Indy 500 winner) and Robby Gordon as potential prospects for chasing the $5 million prize. As for Stewart, he believes that several tune-up races are necessary before jumping in.

However, other stock car drivers have shown outright intrigue. A.J. Allmendinger, a former standout in Champ Car, appears tempted by the chance of a big payday in Vegas. And if you believe Brad Keselowski’s Twitter page, he’s also interested. What’s more, Keselowski has a natural “in” running with Roger Penske’s NASCAR operation in Sprint Cup.

What’s more, there’s the potential for open-wheel legends to get in on the fun as well.

With that said, I’m not expecting Michael Andretti or Al Unser Jr. to change their minds and suit up. And considering the obligations that come with being in NASCAR, I also think that this $5 million challenge won’t attract a lot of “big name” talent from over there.

From a NASCAR perspective, this prize may be worthwhile to guys like ‘Dinger, Keselowski, new Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne and motocross legend turned NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana – guys that don’t quite have the presence that JPM and “Smoke” Stewart do in that series, but are young, talented and willing to make a name for themselves.

Granted, Bayne’s win at Daytona can go a long way for him in that department…But so can winning $5 million by beating IndyCar’s best.

That younger contingent may wind up being served best by this $5 million challenge. For more established stars, it may just be a matter of being fine with where they are — no problem with that, right?