Saturday, August 4, 2007
Welcome to NASCAR: Montreal fans treated to thrills, spills, confusion
By Terry Blount
MONTREAL -- Oh Canada, what a race you saw.
It was 49 years ago the last time NASCAR had a major event north of the border, and it was probably at least that long since NASCAR had a finish as crazy and controversial as this one.
Kevin Harvick earned the most improbable victory of his career, going from worst-to-first in a car that had no business being in Victory Lane.
Robby Gordon not only thought he won the NAPA Auto Parts 200, he celebrated at the finish line as if he had won it. Gordon was doing doughnuts and raising his arms in front of the crowd while Harvick was doing the same.
Gordon did cross the line ahead of everyone else, but NASCAR had black-flagged him before the two-lap overtime finish began.
"In my opinion, I won the race," Gordon said. "I completed all laps. We'll appeal because we won it."
Confusion, anger, deliberate wrecking, penalties to the apparent leader at the end. The packed grandstands on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course saw it all in the Busch debut in Canada.
"If they came here for a show, that was one awesome show," said Max Papis, who finished third.
The inaugural event on the Ile de Notre Dame course was relatively calm for most of the 74 laps. But we reached the French Canadian version of the Twilight Zone on a restart with four laps left in regulation.
Australian Marcos Ambrose came to America to race in NASCAR, but he was close to earning his first victory on Canadian soil. Ambrose had the fastest car all day and led Gordon when the green flagged waved with four laps to go.
But several cars, including Harvick, wrecked behind them in Turn 2 as the two men up front were battling for the lead. Gordon got by Ambrose on the inside, but Ambrose bumped Gordon from behind and caused Gordon to spin out a few seconds later.
Replays showed an official was waving the yellow flag when Ambrose got back by Gordon.
Then things got really bizarre. Before the final restart, NASCAR told Gordon to move back to 13th.
Say what? If the yellow clearly was out when Robby spun, how could he restart any worse than second?
"The field was frozen, but a driver must maintain a cautious pace to be scored," said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of communications. "The 55 [Gordon] did not maintain the pace. He was told he had to blend back in line."
"The tower ordered the 55 multiple times to get in position [at 13th]. The driver ignored NASCAR's directive. He was told numerous times he would be black-flagged if he did not comply."
Gordon and his crew vehemently disagreed. Gordon, who showed his ire by bumping Ambrose from behind before the restart, refused to relinquish second place at the green flag.
"I've been in that situation before," Harvick said. "You argue it all you can, but when you come to the green, you might as well give up."
To no one's surprise, Gordon punted Ambrose in the first turn on the restart and moved to the front. Officially, he wasn't in front after failing to restart 13th.
"After contact with the 59 [Ambrose], NASCAR took emergency action, per the rule book," Poston said. "We parked the 55, which he also ignored."
Whether Gordon is allowed to race in the Nextel Cup event in Pocono on Sunday (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET) is up for debate.
"We're still determining that," said NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell, vice president of racing operations. "It's too early to say."
And what about poor Ambrose? How does he get knocked out of the lead by a driver who isn't supposed to be there?
"I told myself when I came to NASCAR that something like this could happen," Ambrose said. "I'm not mad, but I'm disappointed. We were so close."
Suddenly, Harvick was the leader, but not in Gordon's mind, of course. He had checked out from the field, heading for his imaginary victory.
Harvick knew better.
"The last four laps were just really wild," Harvick said. "When you have cautions at the end of road races, they usually turn into short-track races. That's what happened."
Harvick did a little punting on his own late in the race, sending Scott Pruett spinning through the grass in the incident that brought about the last caution.
"I got along his right side and he ran me in the dirt," Harvick said of Pruett. "That was not the time to get off the gas for me, so what happened, happened. It was pretty rough at the end, but rough races suit what we do."
For the final lap and a half, Harvick had to hold off the crowd favorite. Patrick Carpentier, the French Canadian racer who started on the pole, desperately tried to get by Harvick at the end.
Only one problem.
"I thought I was racing for second," Carpentier said. "I had no idea we were racing for the win. Maybe I wouldn't have braked quite as hard in the hairpin turn had I known that."
Carpentier made a couple of runs at Harvick, tapping him once and trying to get inside him on Turn 10 as the crowd stood and cheered.
"I knew all those fans weren't waving for me," Harvick said. "But we sure gave then something to talk about for a while."
The Montreal racing fans turned out in big numbers (an announced crowd of 68,150 filed all the available seats) to see what NASCAR was all about.
After the end of this one, they're probably still wondering
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I thought I was racing for second. I had no idea we were racing for the win. Maybe I wouldn't have braked quite as hard in the hairpin turn had I known that.