CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve once had to be separated during a confrontation in Canada. But that was six years ago and their relationship has steadily improved since the contentious early days.
Now Montoya is eagerly awaiting Villeneuve's arrival into NASCAR. The 1997 world champion is following Montoya's path into stock cars, and spent Monday and Tuesday testing a truck in Chicago.
``I think it's nice to see Jacques, and hopefully he does well,'' Montoya said. ``If I can help in any way I will. He's a nice guy.''
That's a far different tune from the one Montoya sang back in 2001, his first season in F1. He had just moved up from CART onto the world stage -- a path Villeneuve had also taken en route to becoming one of F1's biggest stars.
The contempt between the former Indianapolis 500 winners erupted at the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix, when Villeneuve accused Montoya of blocking him on the track during practice. Montoya countered that Villeneuve brake-checked him at a chicane during the same session.
The tension boiled over in a confrontation at the pre-race driver briefing, when the two exchanged words and Villeneuve reportedly tried to grab Montoya by the throat. The two were separated by an official, and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone threatened both with a two-race suspension if they didn't learn to get along.
Both drivers now say those days are long behind them.
``We had a hard time, I would say early in our careers, then we mellowed down,'' Villeneuve said Tuesday. ``But off the track, outside of the car, we always got along. Just there were a few high-spirited moments in car on the track.''
Villeneuve announced his entrance into NASCAR last week, when he said he'd test a truck at Chicagoland Speedway for Bill Davis Racing. Davis said he'll enter the Canadian in the final seven Truck Series races of this season, the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway and then the full Nextel Cup schedule next year. Villeneuve also will drive in the remaining Car of Tomorrow test sessions.
Montoya believes it will be a difficult transition for Villeneuve, who has not raced since he was fired from BMW-Sauber last summer.
``I think it will take him a little bit of time,'' Montoya said. ``It's going to take him some testing, and it will depend on how much the team is behind him. That will all really make a difference in how good he is going to be.''
Montoya said he's willing to help Villeneuve and will seek him out when the two cross paths at a race track. Coming from the same open wheel background and the same former series, the two will have a unique bond when compared to the other NASCAR drivers.
``There will be something there,'' Montoya said. ``I don't know how big or how small, but we have a lot of things in common. Jacques is very cool, he's changed a lot since I first knew him. He's like a kid. He's always buying music. I look forward to him getting here.''
Q: You are the star of ABC's new show ``NASCAR in Primetime.'' How do you like it?
JPM: ``I think it's pretty cool. But it's weird, seeing yourself on TV all day, and your personal life. But I think they did a really good job of it. I think people have been really happy with it, and I think people who didn't know me are getting a chance to see who I really am.''
Q: Is it an accurate portrayal of you?
JPM: ``Yeah, I think it is. There is no acting. I don't know how to act even if I wanted to.''
Q: Has any of it surprised you?
JPM: ``It's interesting to see the Mark Martin side of the story, as well as the two episodes of Johnny Sauter. It was interesting how Sauter uses the ``Rocky'' movie to pump himself up before the race. I was thinking that's a little different, but if it works for him ... ``
Q: Well, what do you use to pump you up before a race?
JPM: ``I just get in and drive the car.''
Q: So, it's been a few weeks since we've caught up and I missed all the fireworks with you and Kevin Harvick. What's going on there? You guys had a bit of a run-in at Watkins Glen.
JPM: ``From my side, nothing. Really nothing. When they asked me about a few days later, I didn't even remember. I am being serious. I was doing something for the team and they said I had two DNFs, and I said, `No, my only DNF was in Michigan. And they said `We didn't want to bring it up, but Watkins Glen.' I was like `Oh, yeah!' But I don't really care.''
Q: So you have not talked to Kevin since Watkins Glen?
Q: Do you have any desire to speak to him?
JPM: ``No. I think the day he sees that he screwed up, and has the (guts) to apologize, then we will talk.''
Q: He was talking about you on his team radio ...
JPM: ``Do I care?''
Q: Well, my question was, do you think you are in his head?
JPM: ``Next question. Not going there. Look, I'll tell you, I think his reaction in Watkins Glen is because he's been having (bad) races in Cup and this was the frustration of him having bad results, one after the other.''
Q: Some people say that his reaction was a buildup of frustration against you, and the things you have done this season on the track?
JPM: ``No, no, no. The only time he and I got together before that was Daytona.''
Q: No, not him and you, but others. Incidents you've had with others.
JPM: ``His teammates, you mean? I don't care. And if he's thinking about what happens with anybody or everybody else out here, then everybody should have problems with him. I shouldn't be saying any of this. No more.''
Q: Are you NASCAR's new Bad Boy?
JPM: ``No, I've been a `Bad Boy' in too many series. People have always looked at me like the Bad Boy and I don't want to be that. I don't even look at myself as a Bad Boy. But if I think people need to respect me, I am going to stand up for myself. That's the best way I can put it.''