In a Nutshell: The NAPA 200 didn’t really start until lap 8, when rains descended on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But rather than postponing the event, NASCAR red-flagged the field and allowed teams to change their cars over to a rain package, putting on grooved tires and installing windshield wipers, brake lights and defoggers.
From there, it became a learning experience for most in the field, and the road ringers moved to the front – with Marcos Ambrose putting on a clinic in wet-course driving. Ambrose led 27 consecutive laps and built an eight-second lead over Max Papis, maintaining the lead even after slipping off course under green. Pit lane, however, snakebit Ambrose and the No. 59. Ambrose nearly spun in the pits while leading and then received a speeding penalty to boot. That handed the lead to Ron Fellows, who had short-pitted earlier in the event, allowing the native Canadian to lead until the race was finally red-flagged for heavy rain and a lack of visibility. For Fellows, it was his fourth career Nationwide Series win, and the first at any level for him on the Montreal road course named after his racing hero Gilles Villeneuve. Fellow road-ringers Patrick Carpentier and Boris Said scored top-five finishes.
The event was also a solid outing for besieged tire provider Goodyear, who after a disastrous weekend at Indianapolis provided rain tires that kept cautions to a minimum on the Canadian road course and allowed nearly two-thirds of the event to be run despite the weather. Points leader Clint Bowyer salvaged an eighth-place finish after struggling through much of the race, though he saw his lead shrink for the third consecutive weekend to 168 over new second-place runner Carl Edwards. Brad Keselowski finished 12th, slipping to third in the Nationwide standings.
Who Should Have Won: Ambrose. As the race went green for the first time with rain tires, Ambrose flat drove under then-leader Scott Pruett in the first turn and never looked back. Ambrose in the rain was by far the best car in the field, and was only caught after poor entry into the pits during a green-flag stop and a subsequent speeding penalty. No question about it, Ambrose and his No. 59 team beat themselves on Saturday afternoon.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is certainly a far cry from the short tracks that Landon Cassill was accustomed to in his earlier racing career, but neither the twisty road course nor the rain could slow down this promising driver. Making only his second start of the year for Phoenix Racing and the No. 4 team, Cassill ran a clean and uneventful race, finishing 14th in his part-time ride. Cassill has now finished in the top 15 in four consecutive Nationwide Series events.
Far more known for his Truck racing exploits than his road racing, Ron Hornaday delivered a stellar top-five finish for Kevin Harvick’s No. 33 team in Canada. Hornaday was among the race’s fastest movers before the rains came, and though the weather did slow him down, Hornaday still managed to bring his No. 33 home clean and in the fourth position. In his three road races with KHI’s Nationwide Series program, Hornaday has never finished outside the top 15.
Love him or hate him, Steve Wallace turned in a convincing performance Saturday after suffering through a weekend of mechanical troubles. First, Wallace suffered a bruising impact to his leg after a transmission explosion in practice broke his driveshaft in two and spit parts into the cockpit. Wallace then had to start in the back of the field after changing engines. From there, though, the day went well for the No. 66 team. Wallace rocketed through the field early and cracked the top 20 less than 10 laps into the event. By day’s end, Wallace finished better than his teammate and road ace Papis, scoring his second consecutive top-10 finish on a road course and delivering a stout first run for new sponsor 5-Hour Energy.
Better Luck Next Time
Joey Logano was making his road-racing debut in the Nationwide Series look easy… until bad luck bit the No. 20 team for the first time in a long time. Logano adapted to driving in the rain as fast as any driver in the field, running in the top 10 all day. By the time the caution flew for heavy rain, Logano was in fourth. However, in an incident that was not documented on camera, Logano somehow ended up in the wall under caution with significant damage to his Toyota – rendering him unable to complete the race and relegating him to a disappointing 17th-place finish. Afterwards, crew chief Dave Rogers was less than complimentary of NASCAR’s decision to leave drivers on the track in lessened visibility… think he’d have said that if Logano had finished fourth?
Jacques Villeneuve had all but disappeared after a disastrous attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 in February, but Saturday it was evident why the Canadian was once a Formula 1 World Champion. Driving on the course named for his father, Villeneuve gave Braun Racing’s No. 32 Toyota a competitive run, eliciting raucous cheers for every car he passed on track. However, right before the race was stopped for the final time, Villeneuve got into the back of a slowed Alex Garcia, destroying the front end of his racecar and dropping him from a certain top-tier finish. Still, the race served as shadows of what might have been had Villeneuve stuck out his stock car career.
While road ringers made significant noise on Saturday, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series regulars entered in the show didn’t fare as well in front of their home crowd. DJ Kennington, a Nationwide Series regular and currently third in the Canadian Series points, was a non-factor all race long, finishing one lap behind in a distant 27th place. Nationwide Series newcomer Andrew Ranger fared better in the early run, running in the top 10 in the early going before fading to 28th at the finish. But while Kennington’s struggles may be attributed to his underfunded MacDonald Motorsports team, Ranger’s run in Fitz Motorsports’ No. 22 has to be a disappointment, as Carpentier nearly won this race in the same car last season.
“This was good fun. Now, I’ve got to make Dale Jr. let me run next week [at Watkins Glen].” – Ron Fellows after scoring his first Nationwide Series win since 2001
“I made an error down pit lane, I just couldn’t see the pit exit and we sped. I went down and had a look at it and it’s still hard to see. I’m just really disappointed, I feel like the race was ours today and I tripped over myself.” – Marcos Ambrose, finished third
“All in all, I’m surprised how well everyone did and how few accidents there were. In the end, people were wrecking under caution because you just couldn’t see. The cars were hydroplaning.” – Boris Said, finished fifth
“My second road-course race, a downpour, a speeding penalty, an unscheduled stop to wipe off my windshield and I wheel-hopped off track – all that and we still finished.” – Kelly Bires, finished 24th
“This is ridiculous.” – Scott Pruett after his car’s handling disappeared with the introduction of rain tires
“The rain tire – everybody had questions about it, but it worked. I don’t know if I would have wanted to be out there on dry tires that were nine years old, but the [rain] tires held up very well.” – Patrick Carpentier on Goodyear’s rain tires
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series sticks to road-course racing next week, heading to Watkins Glen International. Coverage of the Zippo 200 begins on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on ABC and 3 p.m. on MRN.