DARLINGTON, S.C. — Tempers were still raging Friday between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman, who had a heated discussion at Darlington Raceway about an extended on-track feud.
It was evident there’s a growing animosity between the two drivers, despite their halfhearted efforts to downplay their latest flare-up in their morning media sessions. A later meeting moderated by NASCAR did not go well.
The two were called in to discuss their actions last Saturday night at Richmond, where Newman wrecked Montoya early in the race, and Montoya later retaliated by intentionally crashing Newman.
“We did have a meeting with both Ryan and Juan relative to their incident, and we made it clear to them that this is their final warning. We also made it clear to them that we will be watching them very closely,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.
“The meeting did not go as well as we had hoped it would.”
NASCAR told the two drivers the discussion is not finished.
Asked after qualifying if rumors that Newman had punched him during the NASCAR meeting were true, Montoya would not say.
“I don’t know, ask him,” Montoya said. “I could tell you either way, couldn’t I? I could make something up. Let’s leave it at that.”
Newman didn’t comment, either, when asked if the discussion turned physical.
“That’s just speculation,” he said. “It was a private meeting. That’s why we had it at the hauler. With conflict there are varying opinions, that’s what causes the conflict. I’m past it.”
Next up is Saturday night’s event at Darlington Raceway, where the short fuses that highlighted the Richmond race could again come into play.
“Don’t you only hope,” seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon joked about all the sideshows.
Although Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin had an uneventful 1-2 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing last weekend, much of the excitement came further back in the field.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch directed expletive-laden rants at their crews over their in-car radios, and both got the results they desired. Truex has four new pit crew members after his team botched the final stop at Richmond, and Busch said there’s been behind-the-scenes personnel shuffling at Penske Racing that has him hopeful his complaints have been heard.
Busch acknowledged Friday it may not have been the best way to deliver his message, but he was confident his meltdown had finally achieved results.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the best forum to go out there on Saturday night and talk about things,” Busch said. “In my mind, to see things deteriorate — and I’ve held it in, held it in — and it wasn’t the right spot to do so. But now with people listening, I think we’re going to make some good strides and try to advance it.”
The tight confines of short-track racing has been prone to bring out the worst in drivers. Accidental contact — sometimes intentional — can cause drivers to fight both on and off the track. Throw in the frustration that comes from an ill-handling race car, and drivers can spend most of the race staving off a tantrum.
Based on how the day developed with Newman and Montoya — Newman qualified second for Saturday night’s race, and Montoya 16th — nobody doubted there could be more fireworks at Darlington between somebody.
“This track is going to breed that,” five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said. “As narrow as it is, track position being so important, if you look at tracks where it’s tough to pass, I think you can set up some sort of temper scale, and it will parallel it.
“Michigan, tons of room, easy to get by people, it’s not a problem. Here, Richmond, other tracks where it’s really tough to pass, that’s when tempers fly.”
Tempers seemed to be in check early Friday, when Newman said most of his anger stemmed from the toll the accident took on his team. He was running eighth when Montoya wrecked him, finished 20th and dropped to eighth in the standings.
“Just getting caught up in a racing situation that in turn turns into something else because of somebody’s temper is not acceptable in my eyes,” Newman said. “We’ll move on. It was sad because of the way it affects our team. I’m not worried about anybody else’s team; it affects our team because of somebody losing their temper. The way that is taken out on a team is different than the way it should be taken out on a driver. That’s something we’ll get addressed.”
But he also wasn’t sure the issue was over with Montoya. After qualifying, and after NASCAR had informed the two drivers they had been issued their final warning, Newman had less to say on the subject.
“I’m just trying to put the whole situation behind us and move on to this weekend’s race,” he said.