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.
'He didn't leave. I've read many, many stories that said that,' Wallace said. 'Roger Penske called Ryan Newman up to his offices and said 'I don't need your services next year.' Ryan Newman didn't come to him and say 'I'm leaving.'
Newman brushed aside the claim by his former Penske Racing teammate.
'I don't know what Rusty's grounds are, what he's trying to prove by saying that. That wasn't the case,' Newman said. 'Roger and I decided mutually to not continue, and it was more my decision I would say. I said our goals didn't aline and for that reason, and that reason alone we decided to not continue after 2008.'
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.
'It doesn't matter to me,' Newman said. 'I know Rusty and I know his personalities, plural, and everybody's different.'
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.
'We've been good, we haven't been great,' Newman said. 'Good gets us close to the chase. Great gets us in it.'
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.
'I feel bad for the guys with the Alltel Dodge because I don't want to take away from them from a performance standpoint,' Newman said. 'I don't think it is when I'm inside the racecar, but when I'm outside the racecar it takes some effort to manage the situation.'
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.
'This year in the big tracks, we've struggled,' he said. 'If you look at the bigger picture, there is nothing to say we're going to go out here and win.'
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.
'I think being realistic, our main goal is get ourselves better,' said Montoya, who is 20th in the points race. 'The whole Ganassi organization right now is in a little bit of a hole and we know that but I think we've started to understand what we need to do and where we need to go.'
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.
'If you take too many chances, you can get offline and kill your speed, get sideways, spin out or whatever,' Kahne said.
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.
'We look at the standings enough to know that a guy 13th or 14th in the points just got in a wreck so we need to preserve a good finish, we don't need to finish back there where he's at, we need to open that gap,' Hamlin said. 'You always are aware, but you try not to let it overtake what you do on the track.'
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.