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Montreal: A weekend north of the border

by Dave Grayson
Friday, August 28, 2009

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Canadian Ron Fellows won last year's race run in the rain
Just because NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series has the weekend off does not mean that we aren't going to get treated to some high quality racing on Sunday. NASCAR's Nationwide Series gets another opportunity to shine on their own merit this weekend and their accomplishing that by making their third annual appearance at the famed road course known as the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, in beautiful Montreal-Canada, with Sunday's running of the Napa Auto Parts 200.

Anytime one of NASCAR's national touring series races on a road course it's anticipated that there will be plenty of excitement and story lines. The anticipation level is even higher for this Sunday's race because this particular event comes with a rather bizarre history.

At the conclusion of the 2007 inaugural race at Montreal there were actually three drivers and cars doing victory burnouts on the front stretch. The first one was obvious. It was Kevin Harvick the race winner.

The second one was confusing. Robby Gordon truly thought he was the race winner and likely still thinks so. But NASCAR had other opinions on the matter after Gordon and Marcos Ambrose traded bump and runs in the final moments of the race.

The third victory burn out turned out to be a case of pure elation. French Canadian driver Patrick Carpentier was so thrilled with his second place finish in this race that he felt like celebrating in front of his home fans.

The 2008 Nationwide Series race at Montreal became a contest between the entire field of drivers and mother nature. The event also became the first ever NASCAR national touring series race that was ran in the rain. With the use of defrosters and a single windshield wiper the drivers somehow made it through the down pour. There was even some now classic video of driver Carl Edwards using a hand held swiffer to push the rain off of his front window.

SOME VERY UNIQUE DOUBLE DUTY.

On any given NASCAR weekend, when the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are at the same track or at least close by, you can expect to see a lot of guest drivers and teams doing double duty by running both events. Again the Sprint Cup teams have the weekend off and apparently a lot of the Cup drivers elected to take that time off. There are only four Cup drivers, aka "insurance whackers", listed on the Montreal entry list.

But that doesn't mean there won't be a lot of double duty drivers this weekend. The list starts with drivers Kyle Busch and Colin Braun who will be in Chicago Friday night participating in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. Fortunately for these two drivers it's a short flight from Chicago to Montreal and the schedule for both races is well laid out in their favor.

But the really unique double duty racing involves the exotic sports cars from the Grand American Rolex Series who will also be racing in Montreal this weekend. NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose will be making their debut in this series on Saturday. The pair will be driving the #77 Ford Dallara, for Doran Racing, in the series' Daytona Prototype, (DP), class.

Earlier in the week there was some video of the two drivers practicing that all important pit road driver switch that come with this form of racing. Taking into consideration that neither Edwards or Ambrose has never performed this function before, there were a some bugs in the process. In fact, there were enough bugs to warrant calling in the Orkin Man. Here's hoping that they had some more practice time before Saturday's race.

Also making his official debut in Saturday's Grand American Rolex event will be NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Brendan Gaughan who will be the co pilot of the #66 TRD Racing Porsche in the GT3 Class. Gaughan will be teaming with veteran road racer Andy Lally who is also doing double duty. Lally will compete in Sunday's Nationwide Series race driving the #0 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports.

Also a major part of a very busy weekend in Montreal is an appearance by the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. This touring series is owned by NASCAR and races on tracks sanctioned by them in Canada. Five drivers from this event will be doing double duty and are also entered in the Nationwide Series race.

But the one driver that really stands out from this particular group is open wheel star Alex Tagliani. The Indy Racing League driver will be driving the #81Dodge owned by fellow Canadian Randy Mac Donald with sponsorship from the Quebec Dodge Dealers Association. One can't help but wonder if Tagliani may become the latest open wheel stand out to test the NASCAR waters.

PRE RACE FAVORITES.

Some NASCAR team owners have a tendency to want to put drivers who excel in road courses, often called road course ringers, in their cars. It's not real surprise that some of the ringers are topping the pre race favorites list for Sunday's Napa Auto Parts 200.

Absolutely topping that list is defending race champion Ron Fellows who will again drive the JR Motorsports Chevrolet co owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr and Rick Hendrick. Fellows has four NASCAR Nationwide Series wins on road course events. At Montreal he has an excellent driver rating of 121.7 and an Average Running Position, (ARP), of 5.5.

Fellow Canadian driver Patrick Carpentier will be taking over the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing's #55 Toyota. His Montreal stats are also solid and include a driver rating of 120.9 and a ARP of 5.2

When it comes to road racing you always pay attention to the presence of Boris Said who will be driving the #09 Ford for team owner Jay Robinson. The leader of the "Said Heads" has a driver rating of 97.7 at Montreal with a ARP of 9.8.

If French Canadian Jaques Villeneuve could pull off a win Sunday in Montreal it would be huge with the fans and for the driver. Villeneuve will be driving the #32 Braun Racing Toyota and hopes to score a win at the track that was named after his famous father.

But they all better be keeping a close eye on the "Aussie." Marcos Ambrose is a road racing champion from his native Australia. But he's also now regarded as a very good oval driver especially following his outstanding performance at the Bristol race. He won the last two Nationwide Series racing at the Watkins Glen road course and, again, appeared to be the 2007 winner at Montreal until he tangled with Robby Gordon. He led 27 laps during last year's race before a pit road speeding penalty messed up his game plan. Despite those two upsets, he still has a Montreal driver rating of 138.5 with an ARP of 2.3

Also don't overlook the two Sprint Cup drivers who have been running the full Nationwide Series schedule this year and happen to be one and two in the series' championship standings. Kyle Busch goes into next Sunday with a healthy 248 point lead over Carl Edwards.

Busch will be making his official debut at the Montreal road course and therefore has no driver rating stats at the track. But he has a healthy track record at the two other road courses that NASCAR visits and has clearly proven that he can turn left and right with the best of them.

The same can be said for Carl Edwards although his Montreal stats may not necessarily reflect that fact. In two starts there Edwards has finishes of sixth and 30th for a driver rating of 89.3. Again, don't be fooled by the numbers. He can get the job done.

AN AMAZING SPONSOR PROGRAM

It's well known that NASCAR veteran Kenny Wallace is a Nationwide Series regular driving the #28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet for team owner Jay Robinson. The team was planning on not participating in the Montreal out of respect to their primary sponsor. The U.S. Border Patrol felt that it was improper for them to sponsor the team for a race that was being held outside of the United States.

However, a piece of modern computer known as "Face Page" wound up playing a prominent role in this team's entry in Sunday's race. It seems that Wallace has a "Face Page" account that in turn has a lot of friends attached to it. Wallace's computer friends thought it would be a great idea to help the team raise the money needed to enter the Montreal race. The end result was an amazing 5,000 fans donating $20 each.

Completely overwhelmed, team owner Jay Robinson entered the car in the race and listed the official team sponsor as the "Thank You Fans" Chevrolet. The donations reportedly came in from fans located in the United States, Canada, India, Germany and the United Kingdom. All 5,000 names have been placed on the car. A usual unflappable Wallace was stunned and said "I couldn't be more thankful or more humble."

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Napa 200 is 74 laps/200.46 miles around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve challenging 2.7 mile, 14 turn, road course.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. From that list 16 of the teams are on the "go or go home" list meaning their status in the series owner's points does not guarantee them a starting berth and they must make the race based on their qualifying speed.

But that may turn out to be a problem because once again the weather may play a huge role in this race in the same manner that it did last year. The current forecast from the National Weather Center calls for an 80 percent chance of rain on Saturday when practice and qualifying are scheduled.

Sunday, race day, calls for a 30 percent chance of rain but NASCAR says the show will go on just like it did in the rain last year. Good Year will have the rain tires on hand and the teams are planning on installing windshield wipers and defrosters.

The Napa 200 will truly have an international flavor to it. The entry list includes 33 drivers representing 49 states in the USA, nine from Canada and one each from Australia, Italy and Puerto Rico.

In the Nationwide Series championship points standings Kyle Busch remains the leader with 3900 points followed by Carl Edwards-3652 and Brad Keselowski-3597.

In the series' Raybestos Rookie Of The Year race Justin Allgaier, from Penske Racing, leads the standings with 206 points followed by Brendan Gaughan, representing Rusty Wallace Inc, who is only 15 markers from the top.

In the two previous Montreal races Chevrolet has won both of them but Ford has led the most laps, 64, largely thanks to the efforts of driver Marcos Ambrose.

The Napa 200 will be aired live by ESPN2 this Sunday at 2 pm eastern time.

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