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Newman, Childress and Montoya dance around their controversies, and the Busches try to get above the fray

 Ryan Newman: another secret NASCAR penalty? Are these secret penalties good for the sport? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   POCONO, Pa.
   Ryan Newman Friday danced around the question of NASCAR hitting him with another secret $50,000 penalty, but wouldn't deny it…Richard Childress refused to take any questions about his $150,000 Kansas City fight with Kyle Busch…Joe Gibbs avoided the Childress-Busch situation entirely by not even showing up at Pocono Raceway Friday….Kyle Busch says he's still not clear what he did at Kansas to provoke Childress…and Juan Pablo Montoya refused again to discuss his Darlington meeting in the NASCAR hauler with Newman, during which Newman apparently slugged Montoya, triggering that secret fine.

   Just another day at the race track, and somewhere along the line here drivers did find time to get on the track and run some laps in warming up for Sunday's 500-miler.
   Newman, once one of this sport's most candid and sharp observers, willing to question publicly various issues, now – following last summer's secret fine by NASCAR for complaining about safety at Talladega – appears quite contrite when pressed on anything controversial.
   Did he really get fined $50,000 secretly by NASCAR for punching Montoya at Darlington, and did Montoya really have his personal lawyer on hand for that in-the-hauler meeting? (Since when did NASCAR allow lawyers to get involved in situations like this anyway?)
   Newman was curt in response: "I've always said private things happen privately…and what happens in the trailer stays in the trailer.
   "There's a reason we have private meetings, and there's a reason NASCAR does things the way they do.
   "When we're talking about fines, either public or private, there's nothing really we should elaborate on, because it's not something our sport should be proud of.
    "To me, it's something for you guys to write; but it's not something that's good for our sport. So it's not something we want to keep talking about.
   "We should all be talking about positive things."



Is Tony Stewart making any progress on solving his team's problems? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   And NASCAR officials were busy pushing a new rule designed to open up racing at this unusually shaped triangular track: more shifting is now expected here in Sunday's 500-miler. "They want better racing here," one top team manager says.
   Just what is going on in this sport these days?
   Good question.
   The question at the moment is 'racin' or rasslin'?
   And NASCAR executives seem a bit lost at the wheel. This 'Boys, have at it' appears to have gotten way out of hand.
   So in classic PR fashion, time to change the topic of conversation.
    Now how well this potential Sunday game-changer may work to divert attention from the shenanigans back in the NASCAR garage remains to be seen.
    But the sport's annual cross-country run – New York City/Philadelphia to Detroit-Chicago to San Francisco-San Jose to Daytona to Cincinnati to Boston-New Hampshire in the coming weeks – puts NASCAR front and center in some big markets, and in front of some curious but perhaps skeptical people: http://bit.ly/jSaeVc

   Shifting gears here was once the norm, to deal with this track's very long front stretch. Typically teams would run an overdrive, to keep from over-revving. Then drivers started playing with gear ratios and transmissions, and finding innovative ways to shift at several places around the track.
   Then NASCAR put a halt to that, ostensibly for cost containment, by making it illegal for teams to run an overdrive transmission.


Kyle Busch: on the hot seat, again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   The overdrive gear is still banned, but the new rules allow teams more leeway in their drive train ratios, and crews and officials expect drivers to be shifting now at various points around the 2-1/2-mile track.
   "There has been some confusion that shifting was not allowed at Pocono, and that isn't true," NASCAR's John Darby says. "Over the last few years teams have done it with limited success but not on a consistent basis.
   "So what we did was change transmission gear ratios to make it easier on engines and give teams a better opportunity to use third gear and shift.
   "Primarily it's an effort to allow the drivers to maximize the rpm on each of the three straightaways."
   The frontstretch is 3,740 feet long; the Long Pond Straight is 3,055 feet; but the short chute between the tunnel turn and turn three is only 1780 feet.
   Consequently there is a straight where a driver can't use maximum rpm.
   How various teams deal with the situation could be different.

   Meanwhile, down in the trenches….
   -- Speculation about Danica Patrick's NASCAR future continues hot and heavy. Now comes word that GoDaddy, the current sponsor for Patrick and for Rick Hendrick's Mark Martin team, may not be on the quarterpanel of that Hendrick Cup car when Kasey Kahne takes the wheel next season.

   -- Despite Tony Stewart's strong run at Kansas Speedway, only two days after he complained about an unfair advantage he felt Jack Roush's Ford had in engine horsepower, the situation inside Stewart's two-car operation remains murky.
   Newman, Stewart's teammate, says Monday's abrupt dismissal of competition director Bobby Hutchens, the key figure in setting up the team two years ago, "surprised" him. Newman said the situation was more one of "team chemistry" than anything on the competition side. And Newman said the chief issues facing the two teams were more crew chief-related than anything, though it's not clear just what that might mean.
   There has been speculation for several weeks that Stewart was looking at trying to hire Greg Zipadelli, his long-time crew chief at Gibbs', to take over the reins, speculation that Zipadelli himself has been noncommittal about.

  Mark Martin: the GoDaddy guy is sporting a different sponsor this weekend. And Farmers' may be that team's primary next season too. So what about GoDaddy? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

 -- And how is Kyle Busch taking this Kansas City flap?
  Or perhaps the question should be how is M&M Mars taking it? Have Mars executives talked with NASCAR about things?
  Busch says it's easy to put it all behind him:
  "Once you get out on the track, get in the car and put your helmet on, that's where your focus is.   To me it doesn't seem that challenging."
   Is there an issue of respect here for Busch to fret about?
   "You would have to ask everybody else," he says. "As far as needing respect in the garage area, certainly. It makes your day a little easier, makes your job a little easier. 
    "I've been able to have good conversations outside the car…whether it's a case that they're not being true to my face, I don't know; I can't read that.
    "I'm not in people's minds -- If you're mad at me, you'll have to tell me.
     "I feel I've acted in the utmost respect to every case that's come my way.  I've tried to do it with dignity and class.
    "Me giving a congratulatory bump to Joey Coulter (at Kansas) is what tipped him over the edge.  (But) I don't recall anytime, any face-to-face conversation, where Richard told me 'If you touch another one of my cars, I'm going to come find you.'
    "If he came to me and was so upset about it, I would have offered him money to fix it.  I'm an owner in this sport; I know there's going to be torn-up equipment sometimes.
    "I will say that if I didn't roll out of the throttle (while racing Coulter for fifth at Kansas), we both would have crashed off turn four.  The kid did what he was supposed to do on the last lap; we'd raced each other for 18 laps, and I was having fun with him, trying to keep him back. And I thought I had it done, and then he got on my inside down the backstretch and pulled a slide job through three and four and squeezed me up there. 
    "I had two options: lift and let him beat me…which is fine, no problem.  We're racing for fifth in the Truck series, wasn't for a win. Or crash the both of us.  It wasn't necessary for any of that."
   Busch says he's talked with older brother Kurt about the situation. The elder Busch got into it with Jimmy Spencer a few years ago, and Spencer wound up suspended, for punching Busch.
   "He's had some good things to say, and some good advice to give as well," Kyle said of Kurt.
   "I just told him 'Don't waver to what's gotten you to this point,'" Kurt Busch said. "'Stay true to yourself. Stay firm with how you're racing on the track.  Don't change.'
    "'(But) At the end of the day, just try and smile more.'
    "I think he's trying to take everything and trying to be a perfectionist with it all…and it's really hard to do that at the level he's trying to do it. 
    "Ultimately that's what we're all worried about -- how the car performs….and we want to win. 
     "Then there's the identity you create -- the icon you become, the role model you are to kids. 
    "There are so many different hats you have to wear at this level.
     "But at the end of the day it's a matter of making that car fast and trying to get it to victory lane."
    Kyle Busch says he has gotten support in all this: "There's been a lot of support; I've got a lot of friends in the garage…crew chiefs or team members from other teams, even team members from the RCR camp that are my friends. 
   "I've had an outreach of support as well as after the incident in Darlington. I didn't boast about it, but I had the same amount of fans who wanted to help pay my fine from Darlington -- we put the money toward the Kyle Busch Foundation. 
    "It's cool to have that support when times get tough. And it is cool that you can have something better come out of a situation like that."


    Carl Edwards says after running Eldora Wednesday night, heading into turn one here at 200 mph that first lap out was quite a thrill. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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