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The Izod IndyCar Series "stands to be the biggest winner" from the return of driver Juan Pablo Montoya, according to Curt Cavin of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. Montoya, the "most polarizing U.S.-based driver this side of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch," brings "the villain figure IndyCar has lacked." He will "add an outspoken jolt to an otherwise friendly paddock." Montoya said that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing co-Owner Chip Ganassi, whose team "didn’t exercise their NASCAR option, supported his signing with Penske Racing." But the move "surely sticks in his craw." Montoya "compared it to the F-1 madness when he left Williams for McLaren" in '03. Montoya said, "It’s fun; I’m really excited. I feel like a 5-year-old kid right now." Montoya "doubted he’d dabble in two series at once, which means he all but ruled out competing" in the Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. Penske was "so eager to sign Montoya that the deal was struck without a single sponsor for the No. 2 car." Team President Tim Cindric said that the commitment is "based on faith" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 9/17). Cindric said, "It was a short time frame from the point we could put it together. It's about [team Owner Roger Penske's] commitment to the sport and commitment to winning." USA TODAY's Gluck & Ryan note Montoya also had "talked about an IndyCar ride with Andretti Autosport and had visited Furniture Row Racing's shop in Denver two weeks ago" to discuss the No. 78 Chevy Sprint Cup ride that Kurt Busch will vacate next year (USA TODAY, 9/17).
SAVVY VETERAN: ESPN.com's John Oreovicz writes the return of Montoya with his fan base is "a boost for Indy car racing as a whole." Montoya "probably more than any other driver on earth ... relishes the opportunity to beat" Ganassi. Being "brash and aggressive, the 2000-era Montoya was anything but Penske material." But the "2013 version -- much more polished in terms of sponsor and media relations from his time in Formula One with Williams and McLaren and NASCAR with Ganassi -- is fully capable of handling the off-track demands of being a Penske driver." The signing is "a win/win for Montoya too: He's highly motivated to return to Indy cars, he's coming back by joining the sport's most prestigious team, and he maintains the ties with Chevrolet that he has built in NASCAR over the past seven years" (ESPN.com, 9/17). RACER.com's Robin Miller wrote this is "uncharted territory," as "no former Indy car stars have ever gone away, stayed out of an open wheel car for this length of time and returned full-time with any success" (RACER.com, 9/16).
MLS is looking to make "inroads into the Southeast" as its void in the region is a "glaring one," according to Ives Galarcep of SPORTING NEWS. So it should "come as no surprise that, after completing the league's other long-standing goal of placing a second team in New York, MLS would turn its attention to the Southeast." MLS has "moved well beyond worrying about survival now, and is instead pushing ahead with rapid expansion, at a rate that could be seen as moving too quickly." It will be up "to the Southeast to buck its own reputation as ... a tough nut to crack for pro sports teams." Atlanta, Orlando and Miami are three markets with "ownership groups capable of jumping into MLS and competing with big-market and big-money teams." Atlanta, with Falcons Owner Arthur Blank, could be a "gold mine if the team can tap into the strong soccer fan presence that exists there." Meanwhile, Miami is a "trickier proposition." Galarcep: "We have seen enough shots of half-empty (or in some cases mostly empty) stadiums for Miami sports teams to know the risks of adding an MLS team." That is where MLS "will be hoping that having more financially solid ownership in the market can help." What MLS "will be hoping for is to bank on the vastly changed demographics in the Miami area, where soccer has shown signs of being far more popular than in past decades." It could be "seen as a gamble to push all-in on the Southeast, but given the growth of the league over the past eight years, and the growing interest in the sport nationwide, it looks every bit like a gamble worth taking" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/16).
WELCOME TO MIAMI: In Miami, Michelle Kaufman cited an MLS source as saying that while the city "remains high on the list of expansion cities, along with Atlanta and Orlando, none of the talks with potential Miami ownership groups have gone beyond the exploratory stages." There are "no stadium plans in place, as there are in Atlanta and Orlando, and that is the biggest question about the South Florida bid." The source said, "There is a lot of passion for soccer in Miami, and a lot of wealthy people are kicking the tires about MLS, and trying to partner with [David] Beckham, but Miami’s stadium plan is not as advanced yet as those in Atlanta and Orlando" (MIAMI HERALD, 9/16).
LAND GRAB: In Orlando, Mark Schlueb notes the City Council yesterday "voted to take two parcels of land if their owners won't sell," which would be "among the last parcels needed for a new soccer stadium for the team, a linchpin in its quest" for an MLS franchise. The city earlier this year "quietly bought 21 parcels of land along Church Street, a block west of the Amway Center," for $8.3M. It is the "preferred site" for an $85M stadium. The owners of three other parcels "have not agreed to sell." City officials said that they are "confident they can reach a deal" with one of the land owners, but they "aren't so sure about the other two." Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said that the sides will "continue to try to talk, but if negotiations fail the city will ask the Orange Circuit Court to allow it to take the property by eminent domain, essentially condemning the property" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/17).