The Nationwide Series debut in Montreal set a high standard for races to come at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and in the following three years since that fateful day in 2007, it’s safe to say there hasn’t been a stinker in the bunch.
The summer of 2008 marked the debut of rain tires, and while it wasn’t the most exciting racing on the planet, it sure was entertaining to see drivers try to keep their cars on track in the midst of a monsoon. Then, it looked like the 2009 finish – when Carl Edwards got past Marcos Ambrose after Ambrose curb-hopped the final corner – would be hard if not impossible to top. Turns out it took just one year to do it; lo and behold, none other than Boris Said beat Max Papis in a drag race to the finish on Sunday! You couldn’t have written a better script.
I guess that means it’s time for the Cup cars to start racing at Montreal, right? Well, not so fast.
The track has been on the short list when schedule realignment comes out, and given the crowds at these Nationwide races over the last four years, it’s almost a guarantee the Cup shows would sell out. But as entertaining as the Nationwide races have been, NASCAR needs to keep the casual fan in mind, and it’s not a sure bet by any stretch of the imagination that they would involve him or herself in a full Montreal race telecast.
The four Nationwide races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve have been 74 scheduled laps, or a shade over 200 miles. Yet with the exception of the rain-shortened 2008 event, one that took just under three hours to complete 48 laps, the shortest race has been three hours and nine minutes, while last year’s event took nearly four hours to complete (3:50).
Given that a Cup race will almost assuredly be longer, a similar time investment is guaranteed, and we’ve already seen the complaints – some by yours truly – after the marathons at Darlington and Phoenix earlier this season.
Of course, those long race times can be blamed on the excessive cautions at the CGV over the last four years. One-third of the way through Sunday’s race, the longest green-flag run was an astonishing 2.5 laps. That may be entertaining in spurts, but it’s definitely not quality racing. In fact, good, clean competition in the CoT on a road course has been hard to come by. While the glorified bumper car exhibition at Sonoma might have been fun to watch, nobody was mistaking that for a race by the supposed best “left and right-turn” drivers in the world.
In my opinion, casual fans won’t sit through a four-hour race at any level. So how can the Nationwide Series get away with it? It’s simple: die-hard NASCAR fans are the only ones watching those events. Plus, a full schedule stacked with shorter races allows for greater flexibility from the fan base: a race or two a year can be a marathon with minimal complaints.
Selfishly, I would love to see the Cup cars head north of the border, as watching guys like Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart race on the same track as Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher would be a thrill. However, given the support from the Quebec region already and the memorable moments that have come out of the four Nationwide Series races at Montreal, it’s hard to argue against keeping it a unique standalone event.
The Nationwide Series has struggled with an identity problem, and keeping the Montreal date as a series exclusive can help fix what’s broken. Its position on the schedule allows for drivers like Ambrose and Edwards to participate in the race as their primary focus, allowing the finishes which have given the Nationwide Series signature moments. Outside of the feuds with Denny Hamlin and Busch with Brad Keselowski, the best racing moments in Nationwide have come at Montreal, the track that apparently keeps on giving.
So let’s not give it away to Sprint Cup.