RICHMOND, Va._ Saturday night’s 400-lapper at the Richmond International Raceway was not without its drama, as Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya mixed it up with each other, Kurt Busch continued his season-long tantrum on the radio and after a yet another disappointing finish Martin Truex Jr. threatened to fire his entire crew.
The Newman-Montoya rift surfaced early when the pair got together exiting the second corner just past the 100-lap mark of the race. As Montoya moved up the track, he made contact with Newman and was sent hard into the outside wall. The heavy damage to the rear of the car ruined Montoya’s day after starting on the pole.
What looked like innocent contact – ‘one of those racing deals’ – turned into something much more when Montoya, multiple laps down, turned Ryan Newman going into Turn 3 on Lap 238. Running eighth at the time, Newman hit the outside wall and was hit again by Kurt Busch.
Clearly a retaliation move, Newman vowed to take care of Montoya after the race. He would not get that chance, as Montoya was quick to exit the track before Newman was even out of the car. Instead of heading to the No. 42 hauler, Newman went straight to the NASCAR hauler to discuss the situation saying he hoped the sanctioning body would handle the situation fairly.
This is not the first time Montoya and Newman have gotten together on the race track. In fact, their issues seemed to start in Montoya’s first Sprint Cup Series race in 2006 at Homestead. Newman does not believe Saturday night’s issues stretch back that far, saying, “I don’t know if he could even remember back that far.”
“Every time Montoya has damage, you see who did it, they usually end up getting wrecked,” race runner-up Denny Hamlin said. “You usually know that’s coming. You have to realize, Montoya, I like him, I think he’s a hell of a driver, but you can’t wreck everyone every time you get in an accident. Accidents happen. Guys make mistakes. Why hold grudges. Makes it tough to get in the Chase, too.”
While Newman and Montoya were sparing on the track, Kurt Busch was continuing his season-long tirade against his team on the radio. Qualifying 36th, Busch’s day got off to a bad start as, according to sources on pit road, he threw a tantrum on pit road before the race. Falling back early on, the night only got worse as he fell two laps down and struggled with the handling of the car – sliding off Turn 4 nearly every lap in the closing laps.
“A very frustrating, long night for us,” Busch said. “We put ourselves behind in qualifying and had to start 36th. Once the race went green, our car just wore through tires by 40 laps into a run. We never could get back on the lead lap and just when I thought that our car was getting better, we get collected when the 42 and 39 got together. We probably had the strongest car running laps down at the end, but when you get more than one lap down, your day is pretty much done. That was certainly the case for us here tonight. We just weren’t very good tonight.”
Throughout the night he continued his critical comments, this time directs his criticism towards Tom German, Penske Racing technical director. After 10 years as technical director for Penske on the IndyCar side of things, German moved over to the NASCAR side of things for the 2009 season.
“We’re two laps down, our day is done,” Busch said during the race. “I’m sorry, our day was done when Tom German decided he was in charge.”
When teammate Brad Keselowski had his own troubles, Busch continued his rant, quoting one of the most memorable lines from the movie “Days of Thunder” that involves a monkey, a football and an unmentionable act.
“We look like a monkey f&$%^*# a football!” Busch radioed. “F&$%^*# Penske team looks like a god damn joke! F&$% everybody! F&$%!”
Finally, as the laps clicked away and Busch was trying to salvage a top 20 finish out of the evening, he cued the radio saying, “My heart says to drive the car, but I know I can’t do anything with it.”
When the checkered flag flew, Busch was 22nd three laps down – his worst performance of the year. Starting the season with four straight top 10 finishes, Busch has struggled mightily the past five weeks. Aside from his 10th place finish in Texas, the No. 22 team has finished outside the top 10 in four of the last five races.
Also struggling this season is Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. Although he has had strong runs, Truex has had miserable luck and two hard hits at Martinsville and Texas. Saturday night looked as if the No. 56 team was going to finally turn the corner and seal the deal on a solid day. Instead, a series of troubles and mistakes ruined a potential top 5 day and resulted in a 27th place finish.
Running in the top 10 for much of the race, Truex moved into the top 5 as the race moved just past halfway. With less than 30 laps to go, the No. 56 dropped off the pace and began losing spots. Truex slowed and headed to pit road for a bad vibration on Lap 371. On the stop, the front tire changer struggled on the right side before making his way around the nose to the left front.
After driving back onto the race track, crew chief Pat Tryson told Truex they would have to come back to pit road as the front tire changer missed a lug nut on the left side. Frustrated after running so well throughout the race, Truex sped off pit road after the changer installed the missing lug nut.
Forced to come down pit road for yet again, Truex was livid at the course of events and the costly mistakes. Headed in for the pass through penalty, he hit the radio shouting, “You’re fired! Every f&$%^*# one of you.”
Tempers are typical of short track racing, but Saturday night’s race in Richmond not only saw drivers get mad at each other, but drivers get mad at their crews and higher ups on the team. The series is heading into the long summer stretch that can make or break a team’s title chances and each of these teams need to work these issues out if they want to contend for the title. Tempers, rivalries and constant bashing of your own team serves as nothing but a distraction from the ultimate goal at hand – winning the Sprint Cup championship.