Qualifying, racing in rain exposes the truly talented drivers
In the NASCAR version of that adage, the rain at Montreal – and NASCAR’s increasing willingness to allow drivers to race on rain tires – has been a solid indicator of which drivers are truly up to facing tough obstacles like a wet racetrack.
This is not a revelation to fans of Formula 1 racing, who have seen over the years how the best drivers in that series --such as Michael Schumacher -- always seemed to end up in front when the rains came.
And sure enough, the front of the pack at Montreal represented the class of the field in terms of driving talent. Cup ringers Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, both highly talented drivers, were able to stay up front on the rain tires after the rain began to fall with less than 20 laps to go in the race. Even after getting caught up in a wreck late in the race, Busch was able to pass several cars and earn a top-10.
Then there was Edwards, who was on a mission to redeem himself after crashing out of the Grand-Am race Saturday while on the parade lap. (Find the video online. It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen). He most certainly did redeem himself by doing the unthinkable … passing Marcos Ambrose on the last turn and winning the race.
Then there is Ambrose, a driver who has proven himself to be a real contender on ovals this year, and who has always been a threat to win on road courses. He was brilliant Saturday during qualifying, which was also in the rain, when he took the pole by running a full second faster than everyone else. Then on Sunday, he was brilliant and a lock to win the race … until the final turn, that is. In the three years the race has been run at Montreal, Ambrose has led more than 60 percent of the total laps run. But he has yet to win. I’m already putting my money on him to win next year.
Also up front all day was local favorite and former Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve.
In contrast to the solid driving up front, the rest of the field was engaged in bumper cars for much of the race, and it only got worse once the rain came. Antonio Perez, who is a decent road course driver, decided it would be good idea to spend the end of his race knocking Steven Wallace all over the track, and I’m amazed NASCAR didn’t penalize him for rough driving. Many of the other mid-pack drivers were clearly hanging on for dear life once the rains came, and hoping just to make it to the finish.
I’m sure there will still be a handful of fans who will continue to claim that racing in the rain is a bad idea, but I’m glad it’s been happening more and more lately … because it’s one of the purest tests of who is truly a talented driver and who still has a lot to learn.
One more thing: Note to self, send letter to Mike Helton and the France family … “That was a great weekend at Montreal. How about we get some rain tires for the Cup cars? I’d sure like to see the big boys do that at the Glen.”
Great run for Ranger
22-year-old Quebec native Andrew Ranger finished 3rd for a career-best day in the Nationwide series, and was even a threat to win the race. Add that to his 8 wins and 19 top-5s in the Canadian Tire series in only 34 career starts, and I’d say we have a good candidate for heading down to the U.S. and getting a shot full-time in the Nationwide series. If I was a team owner, he’d definitely be on my radar. Don’t be surprised if you see him in that #11 car, or another car, in the near future.
Nationwide COT will debut in 2010
It was announced this week that the Nationwide version of the Car of Tomorrow will be run in four races next season, starting with the July race at Daytona.
On one hand, this is good news, as the teams won’t be forced to create a stable of COTs and run them in every race next season. But still, I envision that with these tough economic times, it’s going to be hard for a lot of teams to come up with the money to build these extra cars for those few events where it’s required. It will be especially hard on smaller teams, so I expect the fields might come up short those weekends if enough people decide to stay home.