tampabay.com

Montoya feels heat late in Cup debut

By BRANT JAMES
Published November 20, 2006


HOMESTEAD - Juan Pablo Montoya made quite an entrance, and exit, in his Nextel Cup debut Sunday. The former open-wheel champion and Indianapolis 500 winner finished 34th, and the Colombian and Miami resident didn't escape without getting bumped around a little.

Montoya ran as high as 15th late in the race, but with 14 laps left Ryan Newman appeared to get into the back of his No. 30 Dodge, sending it hard into the wall in Turn 1.

The rear of the car ignited, and trailed fire onto the grass, where he hustled safely out of the car.

"I think one of the cars just got in my left rear corner and spun me around," Montoya said. "I don't know."

Newman and crew chief Matt Borland were reportedly summoned to the NASCAR officials hauler after the race to ask about possible retaliation. Montoya had appeared to pinch Newman off the track and into the grass with 21 laps left but Newman said they were simply "going for the same real estate."

As for Montoya's spin, "his car came across the nose of mine. I felt bad for the situation because, obviously, it looked like I was retaliating, but that's not the case. That's what we just talked about."

Montoya takes over the No. 42 Dodge in 2007 as Casey Mears leaves to replace Brian Vickers at Hendrick Motorsports.

NO REGRETS FOR KENSETH: Matt Kenseth made the most of his fighting chance, coming up with the strong performance he was missing in the previous few races.

He wound 56 points short of Jimmie Johnson with a sixth-place finish.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, didn't appear disappointed after holding off rookie Denny Hamlin for the runnerup spot by 12 points. It was only Kenseth's third top-five finish in the 10-race Chase for the Championship.

"It was a great season, probably one of our best seasons that we've ever had," Kenseth said. "In '03 we were very consistent and did a lot of things right, but this year we probably performed the best and we've been the most consistent we ever have (been)."

AREA CONNECTION: Chris Anderson won a fourth Nextel Cup championship as a pit crew member but the former Tampa resident said his first title as Jimmie Johnson's jackman was special.

"I've never won one in the Chase," he said after sliding off the presentation stage, where he was seated next to the Cup trophy. "It's a whole new deal."

Born in Brooksville, Anderson won three titles as a jackman and catchcan man for Jeff Gordon.

BIG TIME: Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said Tampa product Aric Almirola is likely to make his Nextel Cup debut next season as part of a plan to enter him in up to 20 Busch Series races and test a research and development car for the team's three current Cup programs. NASCAR holds seven open test sessions for all Cup teams and a driver must try to qualify for a race after attending the first two. They must then try to qualify for a race for every subsequent test.

"For our future, it's our best option to concentrate on Busch stuff with him," Gibbs said. "It's only five races (less than) a full truck season so he'll probably benefit more from working with our guys."

Almirola will race in both JGR's No. 18 and 20 Busch Chevrolet entry, Gibbs said.