By Mark Beech
September 18, 2009

Juan Pablo Montoya is as happy as he's ever been. The third-year Cup driver, who qualified for his first Chase this season, met the media in New York City Thursday and appeared downright ebullient during a 30-minute meeting with reporters.

"It's all about the racing in NASCAR," he said. "In Formula One, it's all about the cars and you forget about the racing."

Montoya spent six years in F/1, a series known for its international stars, glamorous racing locales and state-of-the-art technology. And races that resemble parades. NASCAR, with its side-by-side reputation, offered not only a more exciting brand of racing, but also a whole new challenge for a driver who thrives on them (he'd already made the jump from IndyCar to F/1). After three years, Montoya might not yet be poised to win a championship, but he does seem committed to going after one year after year.

And it's obvious that he's loving it. He spoke with enthusiasm and detail Thursday about how far he's come in just the last year. "We look at setups we run now compared to where we were a year ago and say, 'How could be be so dumb?'" he said with a laugh.

Montoya gives a lot of credit for his development to Chase leader Mark Martin, who he says has gone out of his way to help him. "He's an open book with me," said Montoya. "I didn't have that in Formula One. Over there, when somebody's doing wrong, you take pleasure in it."

8.3: Average finish for Denny Hamlin at New Hampshire, the best of any driver in the Chase

10: Top-10 finishes for Hamlin in his last 12 starts of 2009

513: Laps led by Hamlin in the last 12 starts

Oh, my stars and garters. Here's a scene that should cheese off real racing fans: some of the best drivers in the sport forced to participate in one of the dumber television stunts in recent memory.

NASCAR celebrated the start of the Chase in New York yesterday with the 12 top drivers of the season on a media tour of the city. Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers stopped by W. 67th street to visit with the always inane Live With Regis & Kelly. And as things usually are on R&K, things got "BONKOS!"

They had the drivers -- six of the very best in the whole world, mind you -- dress up in blue raincoats that made them look like refugees from a Niagara Falls tour and participate in a pie fight that set some sort of world record. Our heroes weren't even the focus of the bit -- just six hooded dupes among lord-knows-how-many others. Was it demeaning? Yes. Was it embarrassing. Without question.

Look, I'm not kidding myself. NASCAR, no matter what it says, is not the NFL. It's not the NBA. It's not even the NHL -- can you imagine Crosby and Malkin going along with such nonsense? Not everybody knows about or understands the Chase. The sport has to sell itself. But this is more than one step too far, and whichever NASCAR PR wizard gave the OK for the drivers to participate in this wasn't really doing his or her job. Part of that job should entail being on the lookout for embarrassing stunts like Regis & Kelly sprung yesterday. .

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