Newman, Wallace clash over Penske departure

Published 12:43 pm Saturday, July 26, 2008

By By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Newman’s long goodbye to Penske Racing isn’t going quite as smoothly as planned.
Two weeks after Newman and team owner Roger Penske announced the current Daytona 500 champion would not return next season — a decision Newman called ‘‘mutual’’ — former Series champion turned commentator Rusty Wallace said Newman was fired.
Newman brushed aside the claim by his former Penske Racing teammate.
Newman said Wallace’s comments may have been residue from their frosty relationship while driving for Penske before Wallace’s retirement following the 2005 season.
Newman enters Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway 16th in the season standings and is in danger of missing the Chase for the championship for the third straight year and has been critical of the Penske program recently as it struggles to compete against powerhouse teams like Joe Gibbs Racing.
Newman said he’s still sorting through his options for 2009, though he is considered a leading candidate to join Tony Stewart at the newly formed Stewart-Haas team. He has no timetable on when he’ll get a deal done next season, though he admits the longer it drags out, the more distracting the process could become.
MONTOYA’S MOOD: A year after finishing second to Tony Stewart in last year’s Indy race, Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t planning on puckering up to the bricks on Sunday afternoon.
Montoya’s inconsistent second season in the series has been plagued by a revolving door at crew chief and symptomatic of the struggles of Chip Ganassi Racing, which shuttered Dario Franchitti’s No. 40 team due to sponsorship problems.
Montoya saw signs of progress during an 18th-place finish in Chicago two weeks ago, when he was able to stay on the lead lap through two pit cycles despite not having a particularly fast car. Running in the top half of the field at Indy would be another step in the right direction.
EYEING THE CHASE: Kasey Kahne enjoys the technical skill required to navigate the 2.5-mile track at Indy, though at this point in the season Kahne and several other drives admit they keep one eye on the track and another on the points standings.
Kahne enters Sunday’s race 11th in points, just inside the Top 12 that qualify for the Chase for the championship. While he’d love to win, Kahne knows the possible rewards might not be worth the potential risk.
Denny Hamlin knows how costly one bad race can be. He dropped from seventh to 12th in the points after finishing 40th in Chicago two weeks ago now just holds a tenuous 27-point lead over 13th-place Clint Bowyer. Hamlin said his team will be mindful of how the drivers around him in the standings are doing during the race.
HELPING HANDS: Nationwide Series regular Brad Coleman will have a few helping hands with him when he heads to the track for Saturday night’s Nationwide Race at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
Coleman’s No. 27 Ford will have a paint scheme featuring a total of 63 names and hand prints with the slogan ‘‘Making a difference, HAND in HAND.’’ The prints are from dozens of hands of patients and their parents/guardians at Riley Hospital for Children.