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Ben Smith

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Race day
What: Crown Royal presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard
Weather: Mostly sunny;
high near 90, 10 percent chance of rain
Distance: 160 laps, 400 miles
Pole-sitter: Denny Hamlin
Track length: 2.5 miles
Where:
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
When:
1 p.m. today
TV: ESPN
Radio: 1190 AM; 1140 AM;
1480 AM; 100.1 FM; 107.3 FM
Associated Press
Denny Hamlin looks skyward after winning the pole Saturday for today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ganassi, Montoya are due at Brickyard

– “So, what do you think?” I ask the guy.

It’s Friday afternoon and the rain is coming down like God left the shower on, and, out on the track, the Rolex Grand Ams are leaving rooster tails as they tiptoe around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I take all this in for a second, and then look back at the guy standing next to me, a NASCAR beat writer whose opinion I’ve come to value.

He shrugs.

“Well, Montoya always seems to run well here,” he replied. “And Ganassi does know his way around here.”

Gotta admit it. Those two names never even entered my mind.

Which is as odd as odd gets, because, truthfully, who does know his way around this joint better? And – irony of ironies – who needs today more, suddenly?

Between 2009 and 2012, Ganassi won three Indianapolis 500s and the 2010 Brickyard with Jamie McMurray, a race in which Montoya won the pole and led 86 of the 160 laps. But this season his Cup team has gone so far off the grid that you literally forget, until reminded, that he’s back at a place he all but owns.

Coming into this weekend, after all, McMurray sits 20th in points, and Montoya’s right behind him in 21st. Between them, they have no wins, no top-five finishes and just five top 10s this season.

“We started a program that was a deep, deep program, and (we’re) making a lot of changes in our program,” Ganassi said this week. “Are we where we want to be in the points? No. Are we where we want to be performance-wise? No.

“But are we happy about the people that we have and the direction we’re going? Yes. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not finished.”

And then it was on to the Grand Am Rolex Series race Friday, and a rocky start to the weekend. Driving Ganassi’s BMW Riley entry, Montoya punted series regular Ryan Dalziel of Starworks Motorsports into the gravel late in the Brickyard Grand Prix, drawing a stinging rebuke from Starworks owner Peter Baron.

“It didn’t take Nostradamus to know Montoya was going to take somebody out,” Baron said.

“I’ve sent emails to Grand-Am and I’ve made phone calls to Grand-Am saying Montoya is reckless when he comes in this series. He doesn’t (care) about anybody here, (and) he showed that today.”

So Friday ended with Montoya getting deliberately rammed on the warm-down lap by another Rolex regular – a clear message deal, without question – and with Baron all but calling Ganassi a series carpetbagger. Not the best of days for Indy’s reigning poobah.

He’s had better Saturdays, too. McMurray came to it figuring a good run at Pocono – the closest thing to Indy, besides Indy, NASCAR has – meant good things at Indy, but Indy turned out to be far slicker, and so McMurray qualified 16th and Montoya 12th.

“The track just doesn’t have the grip it does (at Pocono),” McMurray said.

And so, on to today. With fingers and toes uncharacteristically crossed.

“It’s been a struggle,” Montoya said Saturday. “The balance, you know, we can either be really tight or be really loose. We’re trying to find somewhere in the middle.

“But we’re working on it. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve just got to keep trying to understand our car, what it needs, and see what it brings us.”

And see if Indy, one more time, will lift them up.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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