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Juan Pablo Montoya says he's ready to rock 'n roll

  JPM: Time to win again, and he's ready (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Media Frenzy Day in Daytona, hours before opening practice for Saturday night's Shootout, and Saturday afternoon's stock car debut by Indy star Danica Patrick, and first man up on the box was Juan Pablo Montoya.
   Last summer and last fall he was one of NASCAR's biggest surprises, dominating at Indianapolis, making the chase, and making a decent charge at the championship. In his third year on the NASCAR tour, JPM hit his stride.
   Now can he keep it up? How will he approach Year Four? Will he finally win again?
   Well, if confidence means anything, Montoya doesn't look like he's lost a step.
   In Formula One, that sometimes seemingly pristine form of racing, Juan Pablo Montoya was castigated for 'overly aggressive' driving, to the point where he finally quit and joined NASCAR.
   So NASCAR's suddenly new 'let 'em race, boys' policy will probably be just made-to-order for JPM.
   One question – how might rough-house racing affect the championship playoffs? Will some drivers try to stay out of trouble during the first 26 races...or even can they?
   Montoya says he doesn't expect much to change, really, here in the 500: "Last year here in the 500 I was bumping the hell out of people.
   "I think the rule came from Talladega," Montoya says, referring to the two hours of single-file running at that track last fall, when drivers, after a pre-race warning from NASCAR about strict no-bump-drafting officiating, decided simply not to race until the very end of the day, to avoid any big crashes.
   "In the minds of a lot of people things will be a little more flexible, a little more open," Montoya says. "And it will probably be a little more crazy at the end of the race. The chance of getting to the checkered flag under green will probably be slim to none.
   "But, hey, that's what people came here to watch, I guess."
    Montoya, with a laugh, says, it won't be much of a change for him himself.
   "When it's time to go, it's time to go," Montoya says. "Now if you wreck somebody on purpose in the middle of the straight, I think you're going to get parked. Because that's putting somebody in danger.
   "But if you get into somebody in the corner, and tangle, I think they'll be okay with that."
   And Montoya says "if it's clean, aggressive racing," he's fine with it. "If you're trying to wreck somebody, that's stupid. But if you just race hard, it's fun."
   The new policy will change a driver's approach to situation, he adds. "People have been skeptical – 'Oh, if he does this, they're going to penalize him for a lap.' I think that's going to go away."
   Montoya, though now some three years removed from the Formula One world, says he's not surprised that Michael Schumacher – who retired from F1 about the same time Montoya made his move to NASCAR – is returning to that series: "I'm really surprised he retired when he did.
   "In Formula One if you're in the right car, you've got 60 percent of the job done. Then you just have to beat your teammate. And finally one week the car is fast enough and you win the race.
   "It's that simple.
   "It's hard because you've got to be good enough to be in a good car. And the timing has to be right.
   "If the 'brown' team has the fastest car next season, I guarantee you Michael will win races. If it's not, they're not going to win races, even if they have Michael."
    Montoya, with a nod toward Danica Patrick's fledgling stock car venture, still recalls his first experience in a NASCAR stocker, at Talladega: "You have no idea how scary it was," Montoya said. "I was going through the gears down the backstretch, and went into turn one, and lifted like you would do in Formula One. And a Formula One car has a lot of drag so when you get off the gas it slows down.
  "But at Talladega I got off the gas and it was like I didn't even lift. So I got back on the gas, to make sure I had been getting off the gas. Then I realized 'Oh, my gosh, I'm just out of the pits and I'm going to wreck already.'
  "And I turned the wheel a little, and the car didn't move...and I was like okay. So I kept it wide open.
   "Now Daytona was wide-open easy. But Talladega....but one thing that was really scary was when I hit a guy and I didn't know how much to turn the wheel. Now I understand that you just have to believe the car will do it."
   And that's something Patrick will have to adjust to.
  "The more people she talks to people, the better she's going to be," he says.
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   Montoya: Formula One to NASCAR, and now he's one of the boys...and Twittering away like mad (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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