0

NASCAR's culture of rivals helping out rivals unusual

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Twice in the first five races of NASCAR's season-ending, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, Juan Pablo Montoya's frustration because of something that happened on the track has been aimed at Mark Martin, a fellow contender for the title.

The first time he was annoyed that Martin, running just ahead of him, faked him out on a late restart. And last week, Martin ran into him from behind, denying both a solid finish.

But for all his frustration with Martin in the heat of the moment, Montoya has often sought the respected veteran's advice as he made his transition to NASCAR racing.

'I ask Mark Martin a lot of questions and he helps me out a lot,' Montoya said Friday as the Sprint Cup Series arrived at Martinsville Speedway, the site of today's race.

During his Formula One days, Montoya said, rivals not only don't give other racers advice, they revel in watching them struggle trying to figure out what they are doing wrong.

NASCAR is different, he said.

'It makes no sense. It's crazy, but he does it and he helps,' he said. 'There's something great about this sport. People are really open about it. Once you're on the race track, you are by yourself. ... Off the race track, you can go to anybody and they'll help you.'

Martin is among the most sought-after for advice, and the most willing to help.

'First of all, one of the biggest forms of flattery is to have someone come and want to talk to me and want my opinion or advice,' he said. 'It's very flattering.'

Martin also isn't alone in his willingness to help out the new guys.

Montoya's first experience came during a test session in Miami, before his debut, when Kevin Harvick saw him taking the wrong line around the track and offered some pointers.

'He came to me and said, 'You've got to go a little deeper and do a little of this and a little of that,' he said. 'I was like, 'Are you kidding me? You actually came to help me?'

Tony Stewart, another former open-wheel racer, lists Martin, Jeff Burton and former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte among his early mentors as he made his transition.

Now a two-time series champion and owner of his own race teams, Stewart said he also was surprised to see a different culture than what he was used to in his IndyCar series days.

'I think it's because the guys respect each other more here, but at the same time, if the guys that you're racing with are out there making mistakes, they're putting you at just as much risk, especially in a 500-lap race,' Stewart said. 'At some point you are going to be around them and if they're doing things wrong, that puts you in a bad spot.'

For Martin, sharing advice has evolved as NASCAR has become more complicated.

Years ago, he said, he and Rusty Wallace used to share technical data.

Now, it's purely driving advice, but while the cautious might be wary that the information they get could make their problems worse, that's rarely, if ever, the case.

Speeding up another driver's development, Martin said, is just honorable.

'Do I think Montoya could beat me?' he said. 'Sometimes. He's probably going to beat me whether I answer his question honestly or not. And I'd much rather be honest than dishonest.'

Even so, count Ryan Newman among the wary.

While his career got off to a flying start that suggested advice wasn't all that necessary, he got his from Buddy Baker, an old time racer who was working as a mentor for Roger Penske. Baker's advice, it seems, suggests NASCAR hasn't always been so open.

'Buddy Baker always said, 'It's your story. Tell it how you want to,' Newman said. 'You can lead them down the right path or you can lead them down the wrong path.' I've never done that. I've always been honest with somebody when they ask me a question.

'But I'm not the first one to go offer advice, either,' Newman said.

SideBar: NASCAR

What: Tums Fast Relief 500

When: 1:30 p.m. today

Where: Martinsville, Va.

TV: ABC