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NASCAR jockeying continues

Roger Diez
Nevada appeal Motorsports columnist

If I were Kevin Harvick, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a Christmas card from Juan Montoya this year, and vice versa.

After going helmet to helmet after a wreck in last week’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen, the sniping continued in the media last week. And with Montoya starting 26th and Harvick 28th for today’s Cup race at Michigan, Kevin will no doubt have the opportunity to complain about Juan’s blocking. For his part, Montoya was asked if it bothered him that people were saying he wasn’t popular.

His reply, “No, I think I’m a lot more popular here than I was in Formula 1, so I’m OK,” showed he hasn’t lost his sense of humor over the incident.

If Harvick doesn’t like open-wheel drivers in NASCAR, then he may be a lot unhappier next season. Not only is Sam Hornish Jr. considering a full-time ride in a stock car, but it was announced by Richard Childress that Indy 500 winner and Indy Car star Dario Franchitti is on his short list (and the only non-NASCAR candidate) for an RCR ride as early as 2008. And Red Bull, which sponsors one of the new Toyota teams, is considering putting former Formula 1 pilot Scott Speed into a Cup car.

The dominos continue to fall in NASCAR Nextel Cup, set in motion by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to leave DEI and move to Hendrick Racing for 2008. The first domino to topple was Kyle Busch, and he has now fallen into the Gibbs Racing camp, displacing J.J. Yeley.

Who will Yeley replace next season? Well, Jeremy Mayfield is out of a job with Bill Davis Racing, and Yeley has a relationship with that team. Kenny Wallace has been released by Furniture Row Racing as well, so that seat is up for grabs. And just to throw some more spice into the mix, the Gibbs organization is being wooed by both current manufacturer Chevrolet and newcomer Toyota. If Gibbs elects to go with Toyota, does that mean that Michael Waltrip Racing will be looking for a new manufacturer?

There was a lot of off-track action in the past week and more coming up, most of it in court. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled in favor of NASCAR in the ongoing dispute over the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing car and its primary sponsor.

Sponsor Cingular had been “grandfathered in” as a sponsor when Nextel contracted for sponsorship of NASCAR’s premier Cup series. However, a subsequent merger with AT&T led to a change of company name from Cingular to AT&T Mobility.

When RCR changed the logo on the No. 31 car, Nextel and NASCAR cried foul, and took the team and the sponsor to court. RCR and AT&T prevailed, but NASCAR appealed the ruling, and the appeals court’s three-judge panel unanimously overturned the U.S. district court’s decision, stating, “Because Cingular (now AT&T Mobility) was neither a party to nor an intended beneficiary of the [grandfather clause], it has not itself suffered a legally cognizable injury as a result of NASCAR’s interpretation.”

Knowing Richard Childress, especially with AT&T’s battalion of lawyers and deep pockets, I expect this one to go to the Supreme Court before we’re done.

In other off-track legal action, the McLaren Formula 1 team has appealed its loss of constructors’ points in last week’s Hungarian Grand Prix, although the stewards’ decision to penalize Fernando Alonso five positions on the starting grid will not be appealed. The hearing before the International Court of Appeal will take place on September 19.

The loss of 15 constructor points, given the tight battle for the championship between McLaren and Ferrari, is serious enough that Ron Dennis and the team are willing to risk the appeal. And it is a risk, because the Appeals Court has the option of increasing the original penalty if it so desires.

Finally, if you watched last night’s Craftsman Truck race from Nashville, you saw the ultimate in stage mothers, as Patricia “Tree” Stout traded her “Mom and Refreshment Coordinator” role for that of tire carrier on the over-the-wall pit crew for her son, J.C. Stout. I hope she didn’t break a nail!