NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: When the 3rd Time Isn’t the Charm

There are days when you just know THAT car will win. It started on the pole and its pilot seems to float away from the field almost all afternoon. Destiny whispers to us of glory and champagne spray.

How cruel Fate can be.

I admit to having a major soft spot for NASCAR’s resident Aussie and all around happy guy. Marcos Ambrose reminds me a bit of Ken Schrader, in that he’s almost always sporting a smile and willing to laugh with whoever might be nearby. Thus, I’m usually cheering him on, hoping for the best possible outcome for his Sprint or Nationwide ride. He’s my underdog. And lately, you’ve got to admit, he hasn’t been performing like one.

A noted road racer, honing that talent in the V-8 Supercar series, Ambrose arrives at any NASCAR right-and-left turn course with the sign “Road Ringer” blinking over his head. And riding high off his Watkins Glen victory just a few short weeks ago, we all held high expectations for Ambrose on Sunday at Montreal.

The race started well enough, and Ambrose’s No. 47 began clicking off the laps, in sun or rain. His car did not meet with the same slippery, sliding roller-derby disaster that played out in his rearview mirror. Steady hands, steady nerves and a positive outlook seemed to draw that trophy to him. I started to hear those whispers.

But, apparently the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve gremlins don’t care much for our mate, Ambrose. They’ve bit him before.

Who can forget the bizarre end to the 2007 race, where Robby Gordon decided that payback was the only recourse for some caution-lap shenanigans with Ambrose. Gordon took Marcos out in the final lap, consigning a sterling rookie performance by Ambrose to the annals of Robby Gordon antics.

Then there was last year’s race. Again, Ambrose appeared to have it in the bag! I was sitting on my couch hoping for the best, watching him keep the field neatly behind him. And then… he slid into pit road just a bit too fast. Even then, I began to wonder if there would ever be justice for the nice guy from Tasmania.

Now, I suspect the answer may be no.

Undeniably, the man who never gives a sullen interview was the class of the field on Sunday. He just didn’t make a mistake. He sighed in ennui while the Rain Rookies behind him played out the final laps like some Three Stooges disaster movie. All he had to do was keep the car on the track and pointed in the right direction.

Carl Edwards began to ride his bumper with just two laps to go. Ambrose blocked, widening his car like the veteran racer he is. But somehow, Cousin Carl managed to rattle the No. 47’s cage. Focused on denying the No. 60’s bid for the win, Ambrose took himself out of position for the entrance to the final turn. His car jumped the curbing, sending it to the outside, leaving a massive hole for Edwards to drive through, stealing the lead.

The bells began to toll.

Perhaps it is a story we’ve seen played out over and over this year, however the victim of Fate’s whimsy has often been Kyle Busch. And let’s face it, after we watched him storm off for the third time, our emotional involvement in the outcome of the race dwindled. It just wasn’t that important to stick around for the victory dance.

This time, the cruel twist of the knife cut deep. I didn’t blame Marcos for his abrupt departure from pit road after the race or his curt comments. I wanted this win for him. I wanted to see his face light up, the joy in victory lane and the genuine congratulations from his fellow competitors. Somehow, even with the backflip, Edwards’s gutsy last lap maneuvers just didn’t manage to surpass the keen loss.

The truth of the saying “Second is just the first loser” echoed in Montreal. It just didn’t matter that Marcos drove the wheels off his car, or that nobody really provided any competition throughout the entire day. Those checkers fell in front of somebody else’s car… not the No. 47.

I’d like to say there will be another day. Chin up. We’ll try again. But today, they are nothing more than empty platitudes.

Ambrose will arrive at Atlanta full of smiles. I suspect he’ll laugh with the media and possibly make a few more jabs at Edwards. Things will appear to be back to normal, but don’t think that’s permanent.

It’s clear Ambrose now has a dragon to defeat. It’s lurking in the waters surrounding Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and when he returns in 2010, that dragon better hide! Marcos Ambrose isn’t laughing anymore. I know I’m not.

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