Aug 27, 2007
Winning Friends Doesn't Win RacesBy JR Nerad
It has been a wild racing season for Juan Pablo Montoya, and it got wilder recently when an incident between Montoya and Kevin Harvick prompted Harvick to vocalize his feeling about Montoya's on-track tactics -- not to mention practically punch Montoya in the nose. In response, Montoya, who has seen a lot of controversy in his years in Formula One, has adopted the Alfred E. Neuman "What, me worry?" attitude. Instead of firing back verbal salvoes of his own, he has largely shrugged his shoulders at the criticism. But the Colombian is not exactly winning friends and positively influencing people during his first year in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series.
What is most interesting about the whole flap is not that Montoya has used aggressive tactics on the racetrack to aid his chances -- something that is not exactly an alien concept in the world of big-time motor racing -- but that drivers like Harvick has been so outspoken in their criticism. Usually, most of this talk is confined to the garage, but Harvick did everything but call Montoya an out-and-out jerk, claiming that "he drives like he doesn't know what he's doing."
Even more interesting is that it was the drivers uninvolved in the fracas at Watkins Glen that started the most recent controversy surrounding the foreign driver lined up to take sides. Jimmie Johnson was quoted as saying, "He's not making a lot of friends out there on the track," and there were numerous murmurs that the word in the garage was the Montoya was not well-liked, and some even considered him a menace. On the other hand, Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, stepped up to defend Montoya, one of the only NASCAR drivers to do so. Gordon, who recently suffered from being crashed out in Michigan, took the political stance, saying he had no problem with Montoya's racing style -- a see-no-evil, speak-no-evil stance that is typical of him.
Through all of this, none of the drivers have questioned his ability to run at the top of the pack. But they have questioned his ability to participate in the unspoken give-and-take between drivers that helps keep them as safe as possible while running at 200 miles per hour, and that is important. Montoya doesn't seem to care about it much, but if one of the days, he is going to need racing room, and one of his fellow drivers will close the door on him because they don't figure that he's the kind of guy who they want to give a break to. Then, he might regret how he's being perceived in his first year in Nextel Cup.
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