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Another NASCAR weekend, another new tire combination for drivers; and what's up with Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman?

   Kasey Kahne, running Kyle Busch's Truck, won here on Goodyear's new tire combination in March, which may give both men an edge in the Southern 500 (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman met and talked yesterday afternoon briefly about last weekend's run-in at Richmond, but after talking with both men Friday, it doesn't look like peace in our time anytime soon.

   It's all about points, Montoya says. Their Richmond run-in cost both men: Newman finished 20th, Montoya finished 29th.  They had both been battling top-five much of the night up till then, and both are hoping to make the playoffs.
   The issue is quite clear, and has been for years, really. And it shows why neither man displayed championship-caliber smarts last weekend:
   -- Newman runs hard, too hard for some at times, rather than give-and-take. His early-career battles with now team owner Tony Stewart showed that. And so have a number of recent incidents.   
   -- Montoya believes in quick paybacks. Denny Hamlin even noted that last Saturday night, questioning Montoya's quick-trigger. "Whenever you see Juan spun out, you know what's coming next," Hamlin said, suggesting that Montoya might be better off being a little more forgiving.
   So rivals here are saying Newman should have realized Montoya would be coming back at him, so why not cut Montoya a break.


Juan Pablo Montoya: too quick on the trigger? Well, hit him and he hits back. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   "Obviously when tempers flare, your mindset goes out the window," Newman concedes. "But I tried to maintain a good mindset. The situation I was in, it cost us a lot.
    "That's the toughest part of that whole situation at Richmond -- getting caught up in a racing situation that turns into something else because of somebody's temper: not acceptable in my eyes."
   Newman said he planned to "address" the situation with Montoya, though not being very specific.
   Newman and Montoya have had something going ever since Montoya's first NASCAR race, at Homestead in 2006.
    "What happened clear back at his first race at Homestead was an accident," Newman says. "I was called to the NASCAR trailer after that, to reassure them that it was an accident.  He physically cut across my nose going into turn one on a restart. It's not like I turned him around.  I spun myself off turn two at Homestead."
   So is it over?
    "I don't think once you have an issue it's over, in what we do," Newman replied.
    "Even when you think you're over it with somebody else, it can re-flare really quick. 
     "I'm not sure if that was what happened at Richmond…but either way, I'm still not happy about it."
    But shouldn't Newman, of all people, be more cognizant of Montoya and how he tends to respond?
    "I know he's a really hard racer, he's really physical," Newman says. "There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you have an amount of respect. 
    "I think the respect went out the window Saturday night at Richmond.  I'm not real sure why."

     Ryan Newman: drives too hard? Maybe if he'd cut Montoya a break at Richmond, they'd both have finished better (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The specific incident that triggered it all came while Newman was coming up on Montoya to pass on the outside. Montoya though had the high-side blocked, and the two touched, Montoya scrapping the wall and losing two laps for repairs. 
    "His spotter admitted fault for not even calling me out there on the outside of him off of turn two," Newman said.
    "Why he would go and crash me afterwards is disrespectful."
    Montoya's stance?
    "Business as usual," Montoya says.
     "I asked NASCAR (Thursday) if we should sit down with Ryan before the weekend. And I think I am going to go talk to them a little bit about it.
    "We've both got to keep running good and get good finishes and move on."
     Montoya, though, says he and Newman have had too many such run-ins.
     "It just adds up…it gets to a point where too much is too much, and I felt it had to stop," Montoya said.
      "I could have done it a lot more aggressively and completely knocked him out of the race, but that wasn't really the plan.
     "I just felt he could have given me about an inch and nothing would have happened. But over and over and over that has been the case. I've been wrecked by him a couple of times.
     "I didn't mind so much that he did it; I minded that at this point we both need the points, and I didn't feel I was being treated fair."
    So Montoya said he did what he felt he had to do.
    "I'll tell you the truth -- with Newman it's been since my first Cup race," Montoya said. "In my first Cup race the guy that wrecked me was him. And after that I've been wrecked a couple times more by him.
     "Really never wanted to have a problem with him. And it's just a pain in the ass when you are trying to race smart and the give-and-take…you let everybody by and then you expect people to do the same.
    "It's just unnecessary."



  Crew chief Bob Osborne (L) and Carl Edwards: the best team in NASCAR? Well, they're atop the Sprint Cup standings. So when will Edwards sign a new contract with team owner Jack Roush?
(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




   Two of stock car racing's top free agents, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya, have long been figured to sign again eventually with current team owners, Jack Roush and Chip Ganassi, respectively.
   However sources close to both situations now indicate things might not be going quite as well as predicted.
   The bottom line: money.
   With sponsorship dollars in increasingly short supply in this sport, car owners have been saying drivers are going to have to take less money than they negotiated for the last round of talks, some three years ago, when things were more flush.
   While Edwards and Roush, and Montoya and Ganassi, may well all sign new contracts to stay right where they are – and both drivers are running very well with their current teams – there is a growing sense that Edwards and Montoya might well opt to move on, if they can get a better money deal elsewhere.
    None of them is talking about the state of things.
    Montoya said at Richmond he couldn't say much
    "I can't do anything right now," Montoya says. "With the way my contract is I can't really talk or anything (with other teams).
   "I'm just waiting. I've talked to Chip a little bit, and we're moving along."
    Does he plan to stay with Ganassi? "I think things are good here right now. We're running good. Yeah."
    Well, is that a yes to staying with Ganassi, or a yes that he's running good with crew chief Brian Pattie?
   Ganassi, who has been very close to Montoya since their Indy-car days, and who brought him into NASCAR back in 2006, flatly declines to say anything about the negotiations.
    There has been speculation that Roger Penske might be interested in Montoya, if he were to leave Ganassi. But then Ganassi and Penske have 'a history' themselves.
    One issue, perhaps critical these days in these multi-car operations, is how car owners deal with all their drivers on salaries. It might be difficult to keep everyone happy if one driver is getting a lot more than a teammate.
    Indeed, insiders say that Greg Biffle's new contract with Roush might be for significantly less than Biffle signed for in 2007….and that could be putting a lot of pressure on Edwards to likewise accept a smaller salary. Edwards reportedly signed one of the biggest contracts in NASCAR the last time around.
    In turn, some close to the situation say they may be seeing signs of some discontent within the Roush camp over that salary issue.
    Of course Edwards, according to conventional wisdom, would be foolish to leave where he's at, with crew chief Bob Osborne and the team clicking so well. They are atop the Sprint Cup standings and have one of the strongest teams in the sport.
    However Toyota – the Joe Gibbs camp and the Red Bull camp – is reportedly quite interested in acquiring Edwards.
    Roush had to fend off Toyota to keep Edwards during their last negotiations, appealing to Edwards' loyalty, since Roush was the man who gave Edwards his big break in this sport. According to sources, Edwards might have taken some $2 million less in potential annual salary that time by staying with Roush.
    The question rivals are asking, again here this week, is will Edwards continue to be loyal to Roush, or will he make a move?
    Edwards says his big consideration is being with a team that can win races and win championship. Red Bull might be iffy on that count, but certainly not Gibbs, who has several NASCAR championship trophies.
   Edwards was noncommittal Friday when asked how contract talks were going: "No time table. Don't like to talk about that in the media. But it's going okay."
   Of course a large part of the Edwards-Roush contract situation is related to sponsor Aflac...and Aflac, though an American company, is making about 70 percent of its revenues from Japan, where exposure to the March earthquake could be an issue. ( http://nyti.ms/eukUZs )



   Yep, NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs face another new combination here this weekend.
   Jeff Gordon says he expects the tires to be 'softer,' which could make tire management by drivers a factor in Saturday night's Southern 500.
   After the track was repaved two years ago, Goodyear brought in hard tires, to deal with the much higher speeds.
   This time drivers will have a brand new right-side tire and a new-to-this-track left-side.
   NASCAR's Trucks raced this particular combination here a few weeks ago. The tire combination was tested at Charlotte last fall and again here March 15th (with Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman).
   These left-side tires were raced last season at Texas, Chicago and Homestead.



  Ryan Newman in the wall at Richmond, after a squeeze by Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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