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Trading Paints: F1 Drivers Who Switched To NASCAR

Daniil Kvyat joined Kimi Raikkonen to become the second former F1 driver to enter a Cup Series race this season.

By Andrew Woodin
ead... Daniil Kvyat of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Russia during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit

To the uninitiated, the two sports might seem similar, but trying to compare NASCAR to F1 is a bit of an exercise in futility. They’re both intrinsically team-oriented, big-money sports whose vehicles are the conduits for their financial windfalls, but when the rubber meets the road, differences abound.

The cars are completely different with NASCAR basing its dual-seat machines on their streetcar equivalents whereas F1 vehicles are mono-seaters that are fabricated from the ground up with designs not based on any standard cars. The actual tech in the F1 cars is far more advanced and compared to NASCAR’s 5.87-liter V8 engines, F1 engines are 1.6-liter turbocharged V6s capable of reaching top speeds around 230 miles per hour to NASCAR’s 200 miles per hour and change. Car weight, track design, track layout, race length, pit stops, qualifying, season structure, point systems — all these different elements and more coalesce to deliver racing fans two innately unique motorsports. And although drivers from each league have tried their hand at the other sports, save for Mario Andretti, the skillsets rarely translate into big wins from league to league.

Despite the challenges they face, F1 drivers such as Daniil Kvyat continue to dip their toes in NASCAR waters, and with the sport broadening its international appeal, we feel it’s high time to acknowledge those who’ve dared to trade paint with NASCAR’s elite.

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Jim Clark

After making his F1 debut in 1960 before clinching his first F1 win in 1962 during the Belgian Grand Prix, Jim Clark revved his racing career into high gear, taking home the 1963 and 1965 World Championships. In 1967, he turned his attention to NASCAR, making his debut for John Holmon and Ralph Moody at Rockingham, North Carolina. Sadly, the legendary driver’s career was cut short after he died during a Formula 2 crash in 1968, but racing aficionados still consider the 25-time F1 winner one of the greatest to ever get behind any wheel.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Known for his fiery competitive spirit and uber-aggressive, crash-susceptible driving style, Montoya ascended into the pantheon of racing greats long before he became a dominant competitor in NASCAR from 2006 to 2014. After his CART championship victory as a rookie in 1999, he delivered another monumental win at the Indianapolis 500 the next year. Though he earned seven wins in F1 between 2001 and 2006, he struggled in his final season for Team McLaren, finishing eighth on the overall leaderboard. While driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, he earned a pair of NASCAR Cup Series wins on road courses with one at Sonoma Raceway in 2007 and another at Watkins Glen in 2010.

“You know, I really enjoyed NASCAR, and when I worked with Brian Pattie (Montoya’s crew chief from 2008-2011), it was very good,” Montoya revealed last year to “We had a really good relationship, and we made a lot of good things.

Scott Speed

With a name like this, one would expect the American wheelman Scott Speed to be destined for racing, and his vast resume as a competitive racer — including being the first American in F1 — corroborates that. In addition to his championship experience in Rallycross, Speed’s the only American and one of two drivers – the other being Montoya – who’s battled through full seasons on both the F1 and NASCAR circuits. Speed made his Cup Series debut at the 2008 TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville, and in the 118 races he competed in, he notched four top-10 finishes before shifting gears to Rallycross in 2013. Speed, who became good friends with Kyle Busch, was known for his eclectic, brash personal style, including painting his toenails blue and wearing tight, pink t-shirts. Speed broke his back in 2019 after overshooting a jump’s landing at the non-championship Nitro Rallycross, but he miraculously recovered and went on to compete in Rallycross through 2021.

Nelson Piquet Jr.

Growing up in the shadow of his three-time F1 champion father Nelson Piquet, German-born Piquet Jr. had big shoes to fill from the onset of his racing career in Brazilian karting. After making 28 starts for Brazil during his Formula One World Championship career between 2008 and 2009, Piquet Jr. made the jump to NASCAR in 2010. He spent much of his time racing successfully in the Truck series, but in 2014, he joined Randy Humphrey Racing, making his Cup Series debut at the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen where he finished 53rd. Piquet Jr. remembers his NASCAR time fondly, and in 2020, he left the door open for a possible return.

"I always hinted that I could return to NASCAR," Piquet expressed to "I had no idea how cool [NASCAR] was and in a way, I was very lucky… I could have hated the series, but I was lucky to have loved it all. I wanted to do something different on a competitive, level and I was really surprised."

Jacques Villeneuve

Though he won the Formula One World Championship in 1997 and the 1995 Indianapolis 500, like other F1 greats on the list, he was left in the dust during most of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Over the course of four non-consecutive years in the Cup Series, Villeneuve has competed in five races for Team Hezeberg in the No. 27 car, making his debut at the 2007 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega. Despite a disappointing career-best finish of 51st place in 2013, the Canadian-born wheelman recently celebrated qualifying for the 2022 Daytona 500 at the tender age of 50 years old.

"Obviously, it’s not a win," Villeneuve noted to FOX Sports' Bob Pockrass. "It’s not like winning the Indy 500 [in 1995] or the F1 championship [in 1997], but at this point in my career, the last time I tried to qualify here was 14 years ago. Just to make the show is incredible because it’s a small team. 

Kimi Raikkonen

After 349 F1 starts that include winning the 2007 F1 World Championship along with 21 other Grand Prix wins, Raikkonen joined Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 in2022 that saw the Finnish racer get behind the wheel of a Cup Series stockcar at the Go Bowling event at Watkins Glen. Though he’s enjoyed racing in both Truck and Xfinity Series, “Iceman” failed to finish at The Glen. Despite his 37th-place finish there, Raikkonen was all smiles after the race.

“[In NASCAR] they’re very professional,” Raikkonen said in an interview with “The rules are slightly different than what I’m used to, but I’m happy to be here and meet the guys.”

Though Daniil Kvyat failed to finish races at both Indianapolis and now Charlotte, he made history by becoming the first Russian-born driver to compete in any of NASCAR’s three national touring series. In a world set ablaze by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s monstrously unstable, violence-prone ego, nurtured though his illegal invasion of Ukraine, NASCAR’s acceptance of Kvyat serves as a poignant reminder of just how significant of an impact sports can have despite such horrible international atrocities unfolding in reckless, geopolitical gambits. Kvyat’s desire to compete and NASCAR’s willingness to include him represents the power of sports to unify people of all backgrounds in what Kvyat has said himself to be “a great example of sportsmanship”. 

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