NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Busch Series Breakdown: 2007 NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Montreal

In a Nutshell: Challenging. Compelling. Controversial. Through a wild and wacky 75 laps, Canada’s inaugural race for NASCAR’s Busch Series clearly didn’t disappoint. In the end, it took the smoke of not one, but two burnouts to clear to figure out the actual race winner.

But in the end, all the action on the track couldn’t stop the momentum of another Nextel Cup familiar face – and Buschwhacker extraordinaire – pulling into Victory Lane for the fourth time this year.

Kevin Harvick benefited from a late-race crash he started – and then a late-race crash he watched unfold – to take the checkered flag in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 in Montreal. Running outside the top 10 for much of the race, Harvick used the pit strategy of a fuel-only stop to put himself in position for a top-five finish. While running fourth on lap 71, Harvick dove to the inside to make a pass on Scott Pruett entering turn 1 – and when Pruett cut off the move, Harvick responded by hitting him in the right-rear quarterpanel. A multi-car accident ensued, courtesy of Harvick’s front bumper, eliminating several contenders but leaving his No. 21 Chevrolet remarkably unscathed.

In the meantime, the No. 59 driven by Marcos Ambrose had his hands full with Robby Gordon‘s No. 55 as the caution came out – and while battling for the lead, the two made contact, spinning Gordon. In the aftermath, NASCAR ruled Gordon would need to fall to 12th place for the restart, claiming he had fallen out of line by spinning under the yellow; however, Gordon ignored NASCAR’s directive, and began a green-white-checkered finish positioned directly behind Ambrose. That didn’t work well at all, of course – it didn’t take more than one turn for Gordon to spin Ambrose in retaliation – but was unexpected was that he actually didn’t get the lead back. Instead, Gordon found himself disqualified for failing to follow orders from NASCAR – and it was Harvick who got handed the top spot, forced to fend off late charges by Patrick Carpentier and Max Papis behind him to hold on for an “upset” win. Carpentier, the highest-finishing Canadian, wound up short of the win by just a few car lengths, with Papis third, Ron Fellows fourth and Stephen Leicht fifth. After the late-race spin, Ambrose wound up seventh, while Gordon fell back to 18th after NASCAR stopped scoring him heading into the race’s final lap.

Who Should Have Won: Ambrose. The one man who seems to lose the most in this wild late-race melee was Ambrose. The Australian rookie that’s become both media darling and rising star in the series, Ambrose seemed primed and ready to come home with his first race win, leading a race-high 37 laps. But after making accidental contact with Gordon as the field was showing the yellow flag – Ambrose simply drove it into the corner too hard entering turn 4, slamming into the No. 55’s rear bumper – everyone who knew anything about this sport knew that Ambrose was a sitting duck. Sure enough, it didn’t take but one corner for Gordon to pay back the favor – and Ambrose fell from a shot at the win to a less-than-satisfying seventh. At least Ambrose handled the post-race fallout with both dignity and class, exclaiming that in racing, you “can’t win ’em all.” No doubt, though, this loss will sting for a while yet.

Three Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend

1) Was Robby Gordon justified in his actions at the end of Saturday’s race? What happens to him now?

First off, Gordon’s refusal to fall in line correctly and subsequent penalties for failing to do so will likely result in a suspension from NASCAR officials – at press time, discussion was ongoing as to whether he would sit out the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono this Sunday.

As to whether the call was right – it could go either way. Ambrose’s spin of Gordon occurred after the yellow flag had waved for the other crash – so technically, the second Gordon started his car again, he should have been allowed to fall back in line. But I can see how NASCAR felt that until Gordon had his car pointed in the right direction, he was failing to maintain race speed and, thus, had to let all cars who passed him continue to stay ahead. Bottom line, though, whether you agree or disagree with NASCAR’s call, failing to adhere to the sanctioning body’s ruling is always going to get you in trouble; and the fact that Gordon stayed there merely to spin Ambrose out of revenge on the restart makes it even worse. Since Gordon may have had the fastest car on the track in the closing laps, it’s truly a shame; a little more patience and a lot more tact would have given him a solid finish. But in Gordon’s world, apparently it’s boom or bust… and he very clearly “busted” on Saturday.

2) Should Harvick have been penalized for his accident with Pruett?

With all the fanfare surrounding the Gordon incident, it’s easy to forget that Harvick started the accident with Pruett that caused this whole mess to begin with. And it wasn’t just an innocent tap, either; Harvick appeared to intentionally accelerate in the turn to hit the side of Pruett’s car and cause what was inevitably an eight-car wreck. With half the lead-lap cars wiped out, it seemed like NASCAR should have done something to curb the overaggressive Harvick’s driving tactics – but instead, they got caught up disciplining Gordon, and that kept Harvick in position to win. Ironically, Harvick’s on-track contact came just days after he chided Tony Stewart for not racing people clean – but just like Stewart, aggressive driving was just what it took to land Harvick in the winner’s circle.

3) How did the Canadian drivers fare?

With several Canadians making their first career Busch Series starts this weekend, hopes were high from the hometown crowd the trophy would stay north of the border. But while those drivers ultimately came up short of the win, a few of them still did a great job of gaining respect among the Busch regulars. Carpentier came so close to pulling the big upset – he wound up a few car lengths short in second, while fellow countryman Fellows finished fourth to make it two Canadians in the top five. Others weren’t so lucky – John Graham finished a disappointing 23rd, three laps off the pace, while Michael Valiante, driving Juan Pablo Montoya‘s No. 42, lost a clutch just 24 laps into the race. DJ Kennington and JR Fitzpatrick were just some of the other famous Canadians who failed to complete the race due to mechanical failure.

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

  • Harvick’s win marks his fourth victory in his 16th Busch Series start of ’07 – keeping up his average pace of a win every four starts this season.
  • Papis’s third-place run in the No. 1 was his best career finish – and the first top five for the James Finch Racing team this year (Finch owns both the No. 1 and No. 7, normally driven by JJ Yeley and Mike Wallace).
  • Kyle Krisiloff‘s sixth-place finish was his best since Talladega in April.
  • After breaking a track mount, Carl Edwards spent 10 laps in the garage for repairs and finished a disappointing 27th.
  • In the points standings, Edwards’s lead took one of its biggest hits of the season due to his mechanical failure – but still remains all but insurmountable. The margin now stands at 787 between him and second-place David Reutimann; Harvick’s win brings him back up to third, but he remains 919 behind and is scheduled to run just a handful more races this season. Jason Leffler fell to fourth in the standings, while both Busch and Cup rookie David Ragan held his own to round out the top five in the standings.

Busch Series regular Bobby Hamilton Jr. held his ground in sixth place in the standings, with Leicht and Ambrose both moving up a spot to seventh and eighth. Dave Blaney, who didn’t race at Montreal, fell to ninth in points, and Mike Wallace finished 28th to round out the top 10 in this week’s standings.

Buschwhacker Watch

Buschwhackers in this race: 7
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 392 of 942
Buschwhackers finishing in Top 10: 3
Buschwhackers finishing in Top 10 YTD: 162 of 230
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 20 of 23
Buschwhackers ranked in Top 10 in Busch Series points standings: 5

Quotable

“You always go back to your position, if you get spun out. And Marcos spun me under the caution, or whatever his name is. They originally told me to go back to second place, and I went back to second place. Then they said to go back to 13th place or 14th place or something like that. I was never running 13th or 14th, so I don’t know what to say… I completed the most laps, I was first car to complete them. We came here to win the race, and that’s what we did. If they’re going to say we finished two laps down, I guess we finished two laps down; they make the rules.” – Robby Gordon, who finished 18th after the NASCAR penalty

“I knew that [Robby] was going to try and hit me. We were talking whether we should pull over and let him pass, but you know, I’ve got two laps to go and I’m trying to win the race. If somebody is going to take me out, they’re going to take me out. If they feel strong enough, they’re going to do it.

“I’m disappointed; I promised myself that I wouldn’t get mad. This is an opportunity for me over here. I’m thankful for what I’ve been given, and today is a bad day, but tomorrow we’ll look to next week. I’m pleased that I’m here and holding my own against some of America’s best.” – Marcos Ambrose, who finished seventh

When asked to describe how hard it was not to be upset about the finish:

“I’ll be in therapy for about two years, I think.” – Marcos Ambrose

Official Statement By NASCAR on the Finish of the Race

“Once the caution came out on lap 72 the field was frozen. Once the field is frozen, all cars must maintain cautious pace in order to be scored.

“At the time that the field was frozen, the No. 59 was in the lead. The No. 55 did not maintain cautious pace and by NASCAR rule, cars not maintaining cautious pace are scored only when they blend back into the continuous line. The No. 55 based on our scoring was ordered to blend back in behind the No. 33 in front of the No. 7.

“The tower ordered the No. 55 multiple times to get in to position. The directive was acknowledged by the crew chief of the [No.] 55 and the crew chief also communicated the order to the driver of the No. 55. The driver ignored NASCAR’s directive.

“He was warned that he would be black flagged if he did not comply. Once the No. 55 crossed the start-finish line he was posted per the NASCAR rule book and at that time the directive to display the black flag was given.

“After contact with the No. 59 on lap 73, NASCAR took emergency action per the rule book Section 12-2, thus parking the No. 55, which was also ignored. The black flag with the white cross was displayed to the No. 55 when it crossed the start-finish line on lap 74. The No. 55 finished the race in the 18th position.” – Ramsey Poston, NASCAR Communications

Next Up: For the first time in Busch Series history, the schedule includes two road-course races back-to-back. No more jaunts up into Canada until next year, though; the series heads home to the States for the running of the Zippo 200 at the Glen. Held in the beautiful summer backcountry of western New York, the race can be seen on ESPN2 at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 11th, or heard on the radio courtesy your local MRN affiliate.

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