Montoya, Newman hoping to get on the right track

ASSOCIATED PRESS Dale Earnhardt Jr. (left) won last year's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Dale Earnhardt Jr. (left) won last year's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Posted: June 13, 2013

JIMMIE JOHNSON is racing for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman are believed to be racing for their jobs.

Montoya, in his seventh Cup season, has only two wins, both on road courses. Newman is a 16-time Cup race winner, but with Kevin Harvick expected to join Stewart-Haas Racing next year, Newman could be in his final season at SHR.

Montoya, 22nd in points, has finally shown improvement on ovals lately, recording two top-five finishes and one top-10. He almost won at Richmond in late April before finishing fourth. The former open-wheel racing winner was runner-up at Dover, Del., two races ago.

"Since we started working the new car, the car had a lot of speed," Montoya said last weekend at Pocono Raceway. "It seemed we could qualify really well, but we couldn't race that well. [Teammate] Jamie [McMurray] was the other way around. Jamie couldn't qualify and could race really well. We paid a lot of attention to what he was doing.

"We had 100 percent more speed than last year and we were finishing in the same places last year when we had no problems that it was kind of weird. I think when we got to Richmond, around there, Danica [Patrick] was ahead of us in points. We were 30-something in points.

"It was, like, 'we just have to stop making mistakes.' We really talked to the guys and said we just have to execute. Each person has got to do [his] own thing. Do we have the fastest car there yet? No, we don't. Are we close? Yeah.

"In Charlotte, we crashed and the guys were all disappointed. I said, 'Hey, we wrecked because the No. 48 [Johnson] spun and we got wreck with the No. 48 and the No. 20 [Matt Kenseth], running there with them.' When was the last time we were running with them?

"You've got to run in the top-five, you've got to run in the top-10, and if you can do that, the wins will come."

So, is Montoya on a short leash at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in the No. 42 Chevrolet?

"I always drive for my career," he said. "We just have better stuff [than in the past]. I drive as hard as I can and I just really focus on doing my job. [Whether] I run 25th or fifth, I'm driving the wheels out of the car."

Newman led the second-most laps at Pocono (19) in the No. 39 Chevy; he finished fifth. He is 18th in points.

Referring to Pocono, Newman said on a Tuesday conference call: "I think that we were the most competitive that we've been in quite a while, at least on the [No.] 39 side at an intermediate racetrack since probably California. And I feel that we can carry that into Michigan and a few other places, like Indianapolis, as well.

"But it did feel good to be back up front. I even texted Jimmie [Johnson] after the race and said, 'Congratulations, it was good running with you again.' I feel I'm fully capable as a driver. Aside from Dover [36th place following a crash] we have had some good runs in the last four races."

Newman is a two-time winner at Michigan (last W, 2004).

Dale Jr., again?

Loyal readers may recall that a certain Daily News scribe correctly predicted last year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would snap his 0-for-143 winless slump with a victory in the June race at Michigan.

Earnhardt, fourth in points, but winless since his 19th career victory a year ago, returns to Michigan Sunday. Dare we predict another Earnhardt win? Sure. That's why some call me "Wild Bill." Or is it "Weird Bill"?

Gordon motoring along

Jeff Gordon is in his 21st full Cup season. The four-time Cup titlist will be 42 Aug. 4. That's not old in a sport in which racers frequently still active into their late 40s and early 50s (see Martin, Mark).

With career earnings of more than $132 million (excluding salary), Gordon doesn't need to continue racing to feed his family. From the way he sounded at Pocono, he plans to keep turning left for several more years with Axalta Coating Systems (formerly Du Pont Performance Finishes) as his sponsor through 2016.

"We're still competitive, still being challenged and have goals, and my back is hanging in there," he said. "I want to race for a long time, but I can't say how long that is going to be at this time."


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com.

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