For the third year in a row, Marcos Ambrose was the class of the field. And for the third year in a row, he failed to take the checkered flag at Montreal.
Ambrose, who in an interview that ran during the race broadcast was quoted calling his secret to road racing “minimizing the mistakes made on every lap,” broke his own golden rule on the final circuit. Coming to the course’s final turn, Ambrose was attempting to block a hard-charging Carl Edwards by running the middle of the track. And while the move successfully blocked Edwards, it also put Ambrose out of position for the last turn. The Aussie completely ran over the final rumble strip, throwing his No. 47 out of the groove and allowing Edwards to steal his first career NASCAR road victory. Ambrose was thoroughly dejected upon exiting his car, with the entirety of his TV interview stating, “I made a mistake and it cost me the race,” before walking off to cool down in his hauler. (Editor’s Note: Ambrose did appear for the mandatory press conference later.)
Besides the thrilling finish, the event was one of the ugliest the Nationwide Series has seen in recent memory. Taking nearly four hours to run, 11 cautions slowed the field for 31 of the 76 laps run. Rain also came late in the event, causing a red flag and a five-minute clock for a changeover to rain tires. But Mother Nature wasn’t the only one causing havoc; when all was said and done, the number of cars damaged on-track was extremely high, with the field perhaps the most tattered seen in a non-plate race since Charlotte was first levigated.
Edwards’s victory was one that allowed him to close within 192 points of Kyle Busch, who was running in second before a pileup during the final restart relegated him to 10th in the final running order. Brad Keselowski also closed to within 282 markers, as he recovered from three separate spins during the event to finish fifth, his career best on a road course.
The ESPN crew made note on more than one occasion of the large crowd that braved the rain and myriad of caution flags to watch Sunday’s race, and the Canadian drivers in the field gave them plenty of reasons to cheer. While Jacques Villeneuve could probably have been dubbed the fan favorite judging from the crowd noise (and his fourth place finish after his spotter miscommunicated the team’s pit strategy earlier in the day merited every bit of it), a number of others gave the Montreal race fans plenty to celebrate. Andrew Ranger, the current Canadian Tire Series points leader and who has proven time and time again unafraid to mix it up with the leaders, drew the ire of both Ambrose and Edwards for his aggressive driving at the front of the field. Chalk the complaints up to whining on the part of the two Cup regulars, though. The bottom line is Ranger knows the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve well, and it showed on Sunday as he came home third to deliver the strongest finish by far for CJM Racing since they released former driver Scott Lagassse Jr.
Credit is also due to Jean-Francois Dumuolin, whose seventh-place run was by far a season best for the R3 Motorsports No. 23 car, and to Alex Tagliani. Though he finished 26th after being involved in a late-race accident, Tagliani was running seventh in the No. 81 car coming to the final restart. Had Tagliani held on, it would have been the first top 10 for MacDonald Motorsports since Kevin Lepage scored one at Charlotte back in 2006.
And again… Michael McDowell. Driving what has been a start-and-park car all year in the No. 96, McDowell took a car that wasn’t even a road-course chassis, ran in the top five for much of the middle of the race, and delivered an 11th place run for K-Automotive. Those top-15 finishes are really starting to add up for this underdog…
One Canadian all-star who didn’t get to do much for his home fans was Patrick Carpentier. After a disappointing qualifying run relegated the former Cup driver to a 40th-place start, Carpentier only 15 laps into the race missed a shift and ultimately destroyed the motor in his No. 99 Camry, leaving him with a 38th-place finish and only start-and-parking with Tommy Baldwin Racing left on his NASCAR plate for 2009. Colin Braun also had motor issues, though his were not self-induced. Getting a rare start in the No. 16 car, Braun was only on track for two laps before losing oil pressure and having his engine grenade. He finished 40th. Yet another to succumb to mechanical woes was Mark Green, who instead of start-and-parking the No. 49 car actually lasted 39 laps before an oil pump failure ended his day in 33rd.
Finally, Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s hard-knock introduction to Nationwide Series racing continued in Montreal. Earnhardt wrecked in practice, only to have to pull into the garage a few laps into the race because of a broken transmission (Marty Reid actually had to check whether or not he was start-and-parking). The Key Motorsports No. 40 team got Earnhardt back into the race, but not before losing 10 laps and all hope of a competitive day. He finished 31st.
Justin Allgaier looked very much like a rookie on Sunday. Entering turn 7, Allgaier (as he later admitted) got into the corner way too hot, and even though he floored his brakes the No. 12 car entered a wheel-hop from which there was no return. Allgaier made heavy contact with Ron Fellows, destroying both his machine as well as Fellows’s No. 5 (one that early on was the only machine in the field able to keep up with Ambrose’s No. 47). Rare as these episodes have been for the current Rookie of the Year leader, Allgaier very much was deserving of his yellow stripes north of the border.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Tony Raines. That’s right. Raines finished sixth… on a road course. Frankly I was caught a little off-guard on Monday to see that Raines was going to drive the No. 34 at Montreal, given Front Row Motorsports’ history of placing road-course ringers in their machines. But Raines has been solid and steady with FRM’s NNS team all year, and that pattern continued on Sunday. Between the rain and the bumper cars being played throughout the pack, Raines kept his No. 34 car on track and for the most part out of trouble, delivering the team’s best finish since Talladega in doing so. Raines is one of the most underappreciated full-timers in the Nationwide ranks, and his owner Bob Jenkins one of the most overlooked in the sport. It was great to see both of them get a run they wholeheartedly deserved.
The Final Word
Yeah, Edwards has made up ground on Busch two weeks running, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, some notes on Montreal:
- Ambrose: For better or worse, he’s becoming a Cup driver. Yes, he put on a road-racing clinic Sunday, and yes he has gone from being an aw-shucks I’m just happy to be here novelty to a threat to win every weekend. But hearing him whine and complain that a driver up front was racing too hard was an episode way out of character for a driver that has been anything but high maintenance since coming to big-time stock car racing. And since I know that there will be readers out there moaning as to why I’m not calling Ambrose out for sulking away after the race was over, let’s be clear: Ambrose didn’t throw his team or car under the bus. His words were “I made a mistake.” I’m not going to name names, but I’m not so sure a certain other driver out there wouldn’t have blamed his team for failing to build a car capable of jumping 10 feet over rumble strips.
- Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: This race was ugly. Very ugly. And it wasn’t the rain tires… they ran less than half the race on them. Rather, as I mentioned as early as last year, this particular road course is not at all conducive for stock car racing. It’s too narrow, too technical, whatever term that can be used to describe a road course that can’t handle side-by-side competition. The Nationwide Series should not be racing on this particular track, period… and stock cars in general shouldn’t either. That’s not to say that NASCAR should just hightail it out of Canada, though, as the fan turnout was again fantastic for Sunday’s event. These fans deserve big-time races…just at another venue. There’s plenty of short tracks in Canada… why not give their ovals a shot? I’ll bet big money the fans will still show up in droves.
- Final word: For the love of God, NASCAR is caution-happy. 31 of 76 laps under yellow. It was like watching a parade. Let’s be clear… a spinout is NOT a mandate to put out the yellow flag. Debris is NOT a mandate to put out the yellow flag. Especially not on a 2.7-mile course where it takes over a minute to complete a lap. By the end of the race, NASCAR was being inconsistent as always, letting things go for the sake of timeliness (funny how the cautions started flying later the longer the TV broadcast went over scheduled time…).
I’m sick and tired of seeing the yellow fly all the time because someone has to gather up their car or because a piece of rubber is on the pavement. Fans come to see green-flag racing, not pace laps. Give them some more of it. Hell, with as long as it takes to run caution laps on these road courses, stop the field during clean up or don’t count caution laps during said events. But I’m sure none of my suggestions will ever come to pass, and as a result we’ll continue to see caution flags we don’t need to see in order to provide ample opportunity for commercials and interviews with Jason Ratcliffe. Boy, do I love watching ESPN’s telecasts.