Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: How Bout This Heat?! Summer Struggles Bring Frustrations to a Boil

I’m not sure if it is the heat of the summer or perhaps just the strain of the summer stretch taking its toll, but there seems to be a little bit of frustration boiling over in NASCAR lately.

Take for instance last Saturday night’s last lap tussle between Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya. JPM didn’t appreciate how Mark was racing him for 15th place – but then again, he didn’t like how Martin raced him for the win last September at Loudon either. Juan Pablo suggested to Martin he should, “take some driving lessons from me,” to which Martin later offered, “I don’t take any s***.” For two guys who normally race well together and have shown a lot of mutual respect and admiration towards each other, the scene was a bit surprising.

Montoya took a swipe at Martin on the cooldown lap, while Martin returned the favor by bumping the rear of JPM’s EGR Chevrolet. The two went back and forth entering the pits then exchanged words in the garage area. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw Martin run into a guy after a race was at Bristol in 1993, when Geoff Bodine was trying to keep from going a lap down while Martin had Rusty Wallace gnawing at his bumper, fighting for the win.

It has been a frustrating season for both drivers – after all, Martin was in contention to win the championship last year, winning five races and finishing second to Jimmie Johnson in the championship Chase. Martin’s year started with a Daytona 500 pole run (alongside teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.), but beyond four fourth-place finishes, 2010 has paled in comparison to 2009, despite scoring only 47 points less than last year at this time.

In 2009, he had scored four wins and was 11th in points already, yet this season he has suffered three DNFs and finds himself on the outside looking in on the Chase – while continuing to be asked the same questions every week about what he will be doing next season.

Montoya was picked by Martin to be last year’s Chase sleeper after Richmond, and he was just that, finishing in the top four five times in the first six Chase races. A sure win at Indianapolis last year was taken away by a late speeding penalty, while this year has seen him get run into by just about everybody, including teammate Jamie McMurray.

Perhaps some of his frustrations are the same that many have attributed to the up and down year of both Johnson and Jeff Gordon – a baby on the way. Although less mention has been made of it than others, this Monday, Juan and wife Connie are scheduled to induce labor and welcome Emanuella Montoya Freydell into the world.

Hey, at least they have the name already picked out.

The frustrations within half of the Hendrick camp are beginning to be projected a bit more vocally by Earnhardt Jr. as well. Following the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Junior deemed his fourth-place finish, “damned embarrassing” and made mention of teammates Johnson and Gordon had different setups than he and Martin did, offering a quizzically sarcastic, “wonder why they got that?” comment.

Following the LifeLock 400 at Chicago, Junior said the first thing he wanted to do upon exiting the No. 88 car were to “scream at my guys” out of frustration. With that out of control beard he’s been sporting lately, it’s a good thing they didn’t. They may have mistaken him for a crazy homeless man and turned the hose on him.

With his 23rd-place finish Saturday night, the struggles that Earnhardt Jr. and Martin have experienced that I touched on last week in my Athlon Sports column are starting to become more of a story as the Chase closes in. Hendrick teammates Gordon and Johnson are currently second and third in points, routinely top-five contenders, with super-best-friend-but-not-a-teammate Tony Stewart in ninth.

So who might potentially go off next? Kyle Busch has looked a little wobbly as of late, and after scoring five wins in the first 15 races, Denny Hamlin has looked remarkably average as of late. Joey Logano might have something in store for Kevin Harvick yet, and Martin Truex Jr. made like Maverick and didn’t take the shot when he had the opportunity to even things up from Infineon with Gordon Saturday evening.

If Clint Bowyer gets denied another win due to a green/white/checkered restart, he might strap on that Hamburger Helper mitten and go start slapping fools.

At Daytona the previous week, there was the much-publicized argument between AJ Allmendinger and team owner Richard Petty. Well, technically that wasn’t an argument so much as it was a talkin’ to. When the King lays his hands on your shoulders, you’d do best to just shut up and listen, lest you get that foot-long finger poking you in the chest. That little vignette seems to have blown over and nothing more than a young driver frustrated at crashing out early by his own doing at Daytona.

Then again, the humidity down there this time of year is ridiculous, as it is in Chicago and throughout the Great Lakes region right now where I reside. I’m about to lose my freaking mind because of it too. So keep your distance.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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