NNS: Ryan Sieg avoids call for pushing, finishes 3rd at Daytona

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Perhaps the biggest reason for Kasey Kahne winning last night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway was the help he got behind him from Ryan Sieg.

However, the Nationwide Series has a rule in which pushing another car (in effect, tandem drafting) is forbidden – and earlier in the Subway Firecracker 250, race officials tagged Josh Wise and Landon Cassill with drive-through penalties for that very reason.

But in post-race comments, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton explained why officials didn’t call Sieg for pushing.

“When you look at any of the situations and the cars make contact and bump and in that last lap there, a car will close on another car and the accordion will close up and make tight quarters all the way down through the whole row,” he said to reporters late last night.

“Cars are moving side to side, which tells you they are not directly connected.”

As part of the no pushing rule in Nationwide competition, cars are allowed to bump other cars in the draft but cannot stay “locked” together.

With the no-call, Sieg’s third-place result stands and it’s a big deal for the 27-year-old, who runs for the small RSS Racing team in the Nationwide Series.

“Hopefully, it will bring some more sponsors,” Sieg said in a statement. “We have some sponsors here and there, but it would be nice to have a full-time sponsor, because we run full-time Nationwide, hopefully we turned some eyes.”

Sieg’s efforts got the attention of both Kahne and his Nationwide Series team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who both praised him for being able to run with the big boys.

“He does a great job,” Kahne said. “It’s tough to run with the JR team and Gibbs and Penske and Roush and Turner Motorsports. He does a good job with what they have, and if he keeps it up, he’ll get more opportunities.”

Earnhardt said he first noticed Sieg earlier this year at Dover, and was impressed.

“I haven’t really paid a ton of attention to him prior to that,” he continued. “He had a couple runs during the race at Dover that were better than anyone outside the Top-5 for sure. He kinda hung around and raced with the 62 [Brendan Gaughan] and a couple of other guys in some equipment that’s far better than his.

“It was great to see him run well [Friday], because I think he does a lot with very little, so [it’s] good to see.”

Additionally, Sieg was able to make the Nationwide Series’ Dash 4 Cash with his third-place result. The Dash 4 Cash, which begins next weekend at New Hampshire, is a series of four races in which four eligible, full-time NNS drivers can compete for a $100,000 bonus that goes to the highest finisher in the D4C group.

For New Hampshire, the D4C drivers are Sieg, Regan Smith (finished second at Daytona), Ryan Reed (fourth), and Jeremy Clements (eighth).

Should one driver win the first three D4C awards at New Hampshire, Chicagoland, and Indianapolis (July 26), then win the Iowa race outright on Aug. 2, Nationwide Insurance will award a $600,000 bonus to that driver – bringing the total payout to $1 million.

Whether dinner or driving, Montoya and Cameron fast friends at Penske

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dane Cameron’s reaction to being told he’d be paired with Juan Pablo Montoya on Team Penske’s DPI Acura didn’t signal the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“I sign my contract with (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric, and he says, ‘We’re going to put you with Montoya,’ ” Cameron told NBCSports.com, pausing to laugh. “I’m thinking ‘Did I do something wrong? Is he mad at me? Why is he giving me that guy? This is going to be a lot of work.’

“At first I wasn’t really sure what I was in for because (Montoya) definitely has a bit of a reputation. I was like, ‘Oh man, how is this going to go?’ ”

Actually, it’s gone really well.

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Entering this weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Cameron and Montoya are the reigning champions of IMSA’s premier division. In their second year together, the No. 6 duo scored victories last season at Mid-Ohio, Detroit and Laguna Seca while finishing on the podium in seven consecutive events.

But it’s easy to understand why Cameron initially might have had reservations about a working relationship with Montoya.

Over a Hall of Fame career spanning more than two decades, the outspoken Colombian famous for his cutthroat indifference and swashbuckling sizzle has been embroiled in controversial rivalries with many of the world’s greatest drivers while blazing a winning trail in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One.

Cameron, meanwhile, is a low-key native of Sonoma, California, who is the first three-time champion of the WeatherTech Series (since the IMSA merger of 2014) but whose professional driving experience is limited nearly exclusively to sports cars.

Yet since their first conversation – Montoya called Cameron while he was driving home from signing that first contract with Penske – their rapport has been strong, and as simpatico as they are behind the wheel, they also get along famously off the track.

“We have such a good relationship,” Montoya told NBCSports.com. “It’s amazing how well we bonded. We really created a friendship. We have massive amounts of trust in each other. Whether he makes a mistake or I make a mistake, there’s no judgment. We always seem to be there for each other, and we complement each other really well.

“I like going to dinner with this guy, put it that way. That doesn’t happen often.”

Cameron said his teammate’s loose and playful style immediately was a welcome relief. During one of his first media appearances with Team Penske’s IMSA driver lineup, Cameron was nervous about maintaining the team’s well-coiffed image of professionalism.

But as Montoya and teammate Helio Castroneves traded barbs about turning gray or graining weight, Cameron suddenly felt at ease.

“Juan’s a good guy to break the ice when it’s getting a little stuffy in the room to have a little joke or make fun of Helio coloring his hair just to lighten the mood,” Cameron said of Montoya. “If things are tense, he’s good. It’s silly and childish but fun. That helped me get more comfortable for sure

“He’s probably a little more brash than I am and likes to pick on people and have some fun, but I like to enjoy myself, too. If everything’s really serious, and you’re miserable, it’s tougher to perform in the car. If you’re enjoying yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people in a good environment, then things come together a lot easier.”

Cameron and Montoya never met before joining Team Penske’s relaunched sports car program two years ago. The team used the same formula for filling each of its Acuras: Pairing an IMSA champion with an IndyCar star.

Ricky Taylor and Castroneves were aligned in the No. 7, and Montoya was teamed with Cameron, who had won the 2016 DP title with Action Express Racing.

The No. 6 Acura in testing for the Rolex 24. Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud will share the car this weekend at Daytona (courtesy of IMSA).

“With (Cameron) winning the championship, we knew Montoya would have respect for him,” Cindric said. “We saw pretty quickly that (Montoya) could learn from (Cameron) in this form of racing. It’s been healthy. We’ve never had any problems with them.

“It’s good to see them have success and Montoya get another championship. He was so close to the IndyCar (title) with us, it was good to get one with him.”

Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Cameron will be paired with another Indy 500 champion at Daytona as Simon Pagenaud joins their Rolex 24 entry for the second consecutive season. Montoya and Cameron still are seeking their first endurance victory, and Pagenaud bring the resume of a former American Le Mans Series champion.

The trio will split the driving over 24 hours while also compromising on myriad details, such as the positioning of the seat and pedals. Hitting a setup that can suit each driver’s style with optimized speed is among the biggest challenges in sports car racing.

“You have to find the right balance between standing up for what you really want and what you really need so you can perform and then maybe give up here and there on certain things that aren’t bothering you,” Cameron said. “When you find the right partnership and the right guy to be with, it really can push the program to the next level.”

Said Montoya: “It’s crazy that we always want the same things out of the car. We keep helping each other. And it’s funny because when I’m really happy with the car, he struggles a bit. And when he’s really happy with the car, I struggle a bit. And we kind of found that middle ground where we know it’s good. I can make it work here, and he can make it work there.”

Each has their own track-specific strengths, too. Montoya is a three-time Rolex 24 winner who excels on the Daytona road course, where Cameron still is seeking his first win. It’s the opposite at Sebring International Raceway, where Montoya says, “I know I suck, and Dane’s freaking unbelievable.”

Such brutal honesty is part of what makes Montoya a good teammate.

“He just wants to have fun and drive race cars and really isn’t into drama,” Cameron said. “Sometimes he can’t bite his tongue, but that makes everyone love him at the same time. We just found a really great way to have fun at the racetrack and become closer friends away from the track.

“He’s just the right guy.”

Juan Pablo Montoya (left) and Dane Cameron celebrated after winning at Laguna Seca last year (courtesy of IMSA).