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Juan Pablo Montoya lives up to his Indy billing....on Friday. But what about Saturday and Sunday?

  Juan Pablo fastest Friday, and teammate Jamie McMurray was right there with him. (Photo: Getty Image for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Montoya's Revenge?
   That's how Indianapolis Motor Speedway promoters are marketing Sunday's Brickyard 400....and Juan Pablo Montoya himself is right there with them.
   Montoya dominated last summer's classic, but got pinched by NASCAR for speeding on pit road in the final moments and lost to Jimmie Johnson.
   And Montoya appears back in form here again, leading Friday's opening round of practice, along with teammate Jamie McMurray.
   The two Chip Ganassi guys could go 1-2 in Saturday qualifying for Sunday's 1 p.m. race.
   But the question of the day was elsewhere in the NASCAR garage:  How rough is too rough?
   Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski seem determined to test the limits...and NASCAR officials seem okay with that.
   Maybe that makes for good TV ratings.
   But rival drivers are getting a bit antsy about all the hard and crazy driving this season.
   Is it only a matter of time until someone – driver or fan – gets seriously injured?
   Mark Martin, the sport's most veteran racer, says he doesn't want to get caught up in the Edwards-Keselowski debate. But he will point out "we wreck these race cars, always have...but we wreck them more than we used to, and we need to not do that. 
   "I'm not a fan of tearing race cars up for nothing."
    On the other hand, Denny Hamlin, one of the heavy favorites to win this season's NASCAR championship, says all this rough driving is just playing with fire.
     "That was a touchy thing," Hamlin says of the latest Edwards-Keselowski run-in.
    "It's two guys I really don't agree with at all. 
     "You're only going to poke the lion long enough before you're actually going to get bit.
    "And Brad and Carl, in my opinion, that was just way overboard and shouldn't have gone that far. 
      "I don't agree with either. 
      "I think Brad's going to have to figure out a way to get some attention other than winning a Nationwide race or running into somebody.  You look at Brad always getting into somebody, and then it's retaliation, then somebody is getting back into him. 
    "Until he changes, that's going to continue.
    "And then Carl, that was just a bad move.  Even though he got roughed up and maybe he got the win taken away, he was going to finish second, he wasn't going to finish 20th.  So I think that was just quite a bit overboard."
   Still, Edwards won the St. Louis race, over Keselowski...and Edwards most certainly made his points.
   However Hamlin says there's an asterisk beside that win: "I just don't see how they can look at that trophy and think they really earned it."
   Nevertheless Hamlin adds that he was "honestly surprised" that NASCAR officials even did anything over the incident.
   And Hamlin says he's still somewhat confused about this 'Boys, have at it' philosophy that NASCAR executives laid out for drivers at the start of the season.
    "That whole thing was basically a gimmick to talk about superspeedway racing (at Daytona and Talladega) and how were supposed to race on superspeedways," Hamlin said. 
    "They were talking about not restricting the yellow line rule and not-bump-draft rule. 
    "That's what they were talking about when they started this whole thing. 
    "I think we took it in our own hands and thought we could just do anything we wanted on the track. 
     "I don't know if the garage is necessarily getting along with each other as good as they used to....
    "But it doesn't matter, as long as the fans see a great race. 
      "I think the line has definitely been moved. What's accepted out there is different now than what it was a few years ago."
     But such aggression may come at a price, if a man is looking toward a championship.
    "It all comes down to just how aggressive you want to be at the end of the race, and how aggressive you want to be on restarts," Hamlin says.
    "You lose out maybe a little bit (by being somewhat conservative and safe), but in the long run I don't think it's a bad thing, because you put yourself in less compromising positions. Honestly it's the best way to points-race. 
    "The more aggressive you are, the more aggressive you treat your competitors, the more chance there is you're going to have a bad finish. And with our points system, you can't afford that."
     Teammate Kyle Busch, like Martin, says the Edwards-Keselowski deal "is not my fight...not something I care to be involved in. 
    "I haven't been involved in something like that in my career -- It just shows I'm not as bad a guy as they make it out to be."
    But Busch will be on both tracks with the two here this weekend....
    And Busch appears to pin some of the blame for the St. Louis encounter on Keselowski: "I'm not out there to do deliberateness, or to move somebody out of the way to get a win. 
    "I don't try to do that. 
     "I just try to race as hard as I can, and sometimes if I do move somebody out of the way people know it wasn't on purpose. 
    "Brad's got that reputation now -- People are going to do that to you because you put it on yourself.
    "I was aggressive, but my aggressiveness was maybe a little bit more calculated.  I'd give myself a little bit more credit. 
    "I certainly didn't raise as many feathers as many problems as he (Keselowski) has had."

    And Jimmie Johnson? Mr. Four-time had his own little tit-for-tat a few weeks ago, not quite as dramatic, with Kurt Busch at Loudon.
   "I get lost in my thoughts on this, but of late I have felt if you're mad enough, it doesn't matter what NASCAR's judgment is going to be, what the fines are going to be, or if they approve of it or not, you're going to take actions in your own hands," Johnson says. 
    "As things have progressed with Carl and Brad, it's gotten to the point where Carl's like 'The hell with it.  I'm not letting it happen.'
    "If NASCAR was still as strict this year, and didn't make the statements at the start of the year, we'd see those two in this position. 
    "There's more to it than NASCAR saying 'Go ahead, guys. You can say a few extra things and rough-house a little bit.'
    "That didn't provoke all of this. 
     "These big flare-ups will happen regardless of what the sanctioning body does. 
     "When guys get mad enough, they have it happen. 
    "There's a great story of (Dale) Earnhardt and (Geoff) Bodine -- where it got to a certain point, and Bill France said 'You're not messing with my sport anymore.  You're not going to make us look like fools.'
    "I'm not sure if it's to that point (with Edwards and Keselowski), and if Brian (France) would handle it the same way.
    "In the time you make that split-second decision to to do something in the car, you don't realize (the implications).  I think it took Tony Stewart, what, 10 years to figure it out? (When something controversial happens), you have to deal with it for months. 
    "Now Stewart's in a position where he's like 'The hell with it.  I'm not going to do that stuff anymore.'"


  Denny Hamlin says NASCAR has "some wild ideas" it might go for in 2011 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Denny Hamlin, fresh from his team's meeting with NASCAR executives on possible changes to the sport – the cars and the championship chase – says "They have some wild ideas -- this whole elimination stuff (cutting some of the backmarker chase contenders as the 10-race playoffs go on) and resetting (points) with one to go with (only) five guys....."
    A one-race championship finale, with the top five drivers after nine races of the chase?
   "You would think as well as we run at Homestead over the last three or four years -- I don't think we've finished worse than third -- that I would be all for it," Hamlin went on.  "But I just think it's kind of way out of the box."
    So what suggestions does Hamlin have for NASCAR officials to liven up the chase?
    Perhaps even simply kill the chase itself and return to the championship system used for more than 30 years?
   Hamlin frets "I've got to be real careful of what I say....
    "I definitely think the chase was a good thing....and (but) in the fans' minds I'm not sure that it's 100 percent what they wanted.
   "I think we (as a sport) were at our highest point in 2005, and that's when the Chase was two years in (Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart winning the first two playoffs)."
    Since then Jimmie Johnson has won four straight titles, TV ratings have fallen, crowds have gotten smaller.....
    But Hamlin says it's not his vote that counts: "They (NASCAR) are going to do what they think is best, and we're just going to have to deal with that format and figure out how to win it.
    "The good thing is that they hadn't already made up their mind as to what they were going to do until they met with us.  I had a decent voice in at least this last meeting."

   Mark Martin says he's cool now with Juan Pablo Montoya.
   Montoya confronted Martin after the Chicago race two weeks ago and said he needed to start driving smarter.
   Martin ran his first NASCAR Cup event in 1981; Montoya has been on the tour four years now.
   Martin took a light-hearted tone here Friday on the issue: "I don't disagree with him; I need to drive smart.  Anybody that knows me that well knows I'm not that bright."
   And Martin says he's talked with Montoya about it: "By text. 
   "We're good. 
    "Two hot-heads that came off the handle. 
     "People just didn't know I was a hot head.
    " I lost my temper."

   Talk about strange and unusual race promotions, Watkins Glen's Michael Printup will have Tony Stewart at Jim Boeheim's basketball camp next week to help market the upcoming race at the Glen.
   Boeheim, head coach of the Syracuse basketball team, will run the Indiana native through various drills to help Stewart develop his dribbling and shooting skills.

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  Cool shades. Montoya always has the coolest on the tour (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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