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Thompson in Turn 5: Martin/Montoya the Closest Martin Has Come to an On-Track Feud

Two weeks ago, Turn 5 focused on the increasingly more confident Juan Pablo Montoya and his newfound status as one of the elite drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The article Juan Pablo Has Arrived, But Championship Hopes Are Underpowered chronicled the third-year driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s ascent from struggling freshman and sophomore campaigns in the series to a legitimate championship contender, as well as his own personal sense of belonging amongst even the most seasoned veterans of the sport.

The article offered, as support for Montoya’s increased personal assuredness, his comments of displeasure with race winner Mark Martin following the first race of the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship at Loudon, N.H. Following a frantic dash to the checkered after a restart with three laps remaining, a visibly angered Montoya accused the popular veteran of “stopping” his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet on the exit to turn 1 with two laps remaining, letting it be known that he was none too happy with the 50-year-old Batesville, Ark. native as a result. Montoya believes that Martin’s tactic killed his momentum, preventing him from taking the lead and ultimately the victory in that race. Instead, the Colombia native wound up third behind Martin and Denny Hamlin as his career winless streak on an oval continued on.

“What he did, not cool at all. I could have wrecked him,” Montoya radioed to his crew after the incident.

Yet Martin, seemingly oblivious to Montoya’s anger, offered nothing but praise for the pilot of the No. 42 Chevrolet after the race. “I have a lot of respect for Juan Montoya,” he said. “And I had respect for him and he had for me before a lot of others on the racetrack.”

“I still didn’t know for sure that he wouldn’t slip. I didn’t know that for sure, because I know that he’s racing for his first oval-track win. But I knew he wouldn’t slip on purpose, and we’re all fighting hard. So I tried to give him enough room but do my race, too.”

However, as far as his race questionable maneuver was concerned, Martin made no apologies and did not believe he had done anything wrong. “”I fought for that race,” Martin said. “But I wouldn’t do anything. I still won’t.”

Midweek following New Hampshire, Montoya, clearly still irked with Martin, attempted to take some of the edge off of the situation. “He did what he had to do to win the race. I wasn’t the happiest guy,” he said in a NASCAR teleconference.

“It’s fun when you do it to someone else, but it’s not when they do it to you – but it’s part of it.”

Reading between the lines, it would be reasonable for one to assume that Martin should not expect any favors from Montoya in the future. That’s somewhat ironic, since Martin has been one of the former Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula 1 competitor’s biggest cheerleaders as he has transitioned into NASCAR. Montoya freely admits that he has leaned on Martin for sage advice on many occasions, even to the point of saying, “Mark’s an open book with me.”

Knowing that Montoya wears his emotions on his sleeve and is cursed with somewhat of a short fuse, coupled with the knowledge that Martin is known for his “clean” driving, it was easy to assume the small dustup at Loudon would soon be a distant memory. However, it looks like Martin once again has angered the 34-year old Montoya.

Ed Hinton, the highly reputable and longtime NASCAR journalist reported in a ESPN.com article this week that Montoya once again seems to have a beef with Martin after a lap 125 rear-ending on a restart of the NASCAR Banking 500 from Lowe’s Motor Speedway last Saturday night. Hinton wrote,

“Did he hit me, or did I hit him?”

Montoya snapped when I asked him about it.

Well, technically, Martin rear-ended him, but it was because Montoya had checked up on a restart.

“Oh, OK,” Montoya fumed. “I just wanted to make sure you were watching the same thing I did.”

But the thing was, Montoya got into the back of Clint Bowyer, restarting just ahead of him.

“I got hit into the car in front of us,” Montoya said.

Without a doubt, Montoya was placing blame for his misfortunes on Martin. The damage which incurred in the incident ultimately resulted in a dismal 35th-place finish and, in all probability, dashed any hopes of a 2009 Sprint Cup championship for Montoya and the No. 42 team.

However, Montoya didn’t hold Martin solely responsible for his misfortunes this time. Instead, he believes that race leader Jeff Gordon contributed to his ruined day as much, if not more than Martin. “We all kind of accelerated and then they all checked up,” Montoya said. “Every time the No. 24 restarts [in the lead], it’s the same thing. Every time the No. 24 restarts, everybody packs [together in] the back. I don’t know what he does, but it’s always the same thing.”

On the one hand, those comments show that Montoya has undoubtedly become comfortable in his skin as a NASCAR driver. For there are few people with the gall to “call out” a driver known for his on-track ethics and 40 wins over a 27-year career, as well as a four-time Sprint Cup champion with an eye-popping 82 modern day wins under his belt.

But with that said, the anger and fingerpointing towards Martin especially is noteworthy, if for no other reason than it is such a rarity. In fact, unable to conjure up any personal memories of when Martin was last called out in anger for his driving, and unable to find any such incidents in my research, I called on the crack staff here at Frontstretch. However, they too drew a blank as to a definitive incident involving another driver being angered by Martin for an on-track or, for that matter, an off-track incident more than once in such a short period of time.

Certainly, Martin has been involved in accidents that were of his own doing; however, on those rare occasions, no one need wonder if Martin was at fault, as he will be the first to say he “screwed up.” Perhaps in the future, should the occasion arise, Montoya might consider discussing with Martin any questions he has concerning his actions behind the wheel before airing his dirty laundry out in public.

In the meantime, though, maybe Montoya should ponder this question: If no one but himself has had a real issue with a driver over that driver’s 27-year career… who really has the problem?

And that’s my view from turn 5.

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