Montoya scrutinized as newcomer to the scene
The Colombian is trying hard to approach each new day as a learning experience.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't fazed by the fiery crash that ended his Nextel Cup debut. And if Ryan Newman wrecked him on purpose, Montoya doesn't care.
The brash Colombian is taking a "no worries" approach to his first season in NASCAR, which is shaping up to be one crazy ride already. His switch from the country club Formula One lifestyle to the campfire NASCAR culture has so far been smooth, despite an overwhelming interest in his every move that is quickly overshadowing many of his new rivals.
"From what I understand he's bigger than a rock star in his country," said Newman, a rival Dodge driver. "Just seeing him, he's got a great character, a great attitude. I think he's got a learning curve ahead of him; obviously every rookie does. But I think he's capable of it.
"If I had to pick a winner of rookie of the year off the top of my head right now, I'd say it would be him."
Newman and Montoya have already had one on-track run-in, in November's season finale Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Montoya was having a decent first race until contact with Newman sent him hard into the wall and caused his car to burst into flames.
Although observers feared that Montoya, a veteran of open-wheel cockpits, could not quickly extract himself from the car, he deftly maneuvered through the safety equipment and climbed to safety. Two months later, he scoffs at those who wonder if that harrowing initial experience has made him question his move to NASCAR.
"There was a lot of fire ... but if you look at it from where I am sitting, it was nothing," he said during testing this week at Daytona International Speedway.
"I looked in the mirror and there were flames everywhere and I was 'OK, you know what you've got to do.' You can't rush it. If you tried to rush, you are going to get out slow."
Although many thought Newman's contact with Montoya was intentional, Montoya said he never gave the incident a second thought and never expected any sort of apology.
"There is nothing to apologize for," he said. "We are racing there and racing hard and things like that will happen."
But as the two came face-to-face this week at a Dodge function, Newman still felt the need to explain himself.
"I think the world of you and would never do that," Newman said. "And if I did, I'd come talk to you about it after."
"I just do it. I don't talk about it," Montoya replied with a grin.
Montoya indeed has been that way in the past, when his aggressive nature caused many incidents through his days in CART and Formula One. But he's trying hard to rein in that ultra-competitive streak and approach each new day in NASCAR as a learning experience.
He wants to be patient, and convince his rivals that he can be that way. He's also intent on showing respect, not forcing anything and paying his dues. Just don't mistake that approach as a built-in excuse to fail, or as an acceptance of mediocrity.
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