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Monday, August 30, 2010

Anguish for Ambrose, joy for Said, and tons of fun for the fans at Montreal

Jason Smith/Getty Images
Boris Said celebrates his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win in 22 races in Victory Lane at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

There are NASCAR fans who say they don’t like road course racing, which is really unfortunate because it’s some of the best racing you’ll ever see.

And if any of those fans were watching Sunday’s Nationwide race at Montreal, they probably have changed their mind.

Any time the Nationwide series goes up to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, it is bound to be a great race. The beautiful, island road course is challenging, hard on the drivers and cars, and always features tight racing and exciting finishes. This year was no different, with a green-white-checkered that was as close as any we’ve seen in NASCAR all year, and a collective scream of joy from all the Saidheads as Boris finally got another NASCAR win after trying for so long (He won in the Truck series in 1998, but that’s ancient history).

The action was nonstop, especially on restarts, and there was no shortage of drama throughout the race as tempers flared and the action got heated.

On top of all that, there were a lot of emotions going around among the top contending drivers, who all had a compelling storyline heading into the race.

First, there’s the pure jubilation of our victor – the very likable afro-wearing giant named Boris Said. Boris has long tried to break through as a full-time NASCAR driver, but his struggles on ovals have hindered him. Every time the Cup or Nationwide drivers head to a road course, though, he is considered a threat to win … but didn’t do it until Sunday.

Boris is unusually helpful to his competition … the regulars in Cup and Nationwide who want to improve their driving skills on the road courses. Sometimes, they get so good they beat him … but he keeps on teaching them anyway. Finally, he got a chance to celebrate, and was probably happier than any other race winner this year. He’s not likely to win again this year, with the road courses done for all series, but this win will definitely be one of the most popular around the garage due to all the help Boris had given other drivers.

My favorite quote from Boris after the race: “I’m going to have a nice steak and I’m going to drink like hell and maybe French kiss a French girl.”

Then we have the proud resurgence of second-place Max Papis, an open-wheel convert who has tried so hard to make it in the Cup series, but has struggled mightily. He is one of the nicest guys in the garage to talk to, and is genuinely happy just to even qualify for Cup races, even if he sometimes has to start-and-park. Recently his Cup effort was ended, and it was announced he will drive in the Truck series full-time in 2011.

Papis, aka Mad Max, wants to make it in NASCAR, and to do that he needs the proper equipment. That’s what he got this weekend, driving the #33 car for Kevin Harvick, and he almost took the checkered flag, losing by inches. Papis is another guy the others in the garage are probably rooting for to succeed, and I like the approach he is taking. If he can start a good run in the Truck series, maybe he’ll be able to get the proper funding that is needed to run a Cup program in the future.

Finally, there is anguish; which was felt by a couple drivers.

First, Robby Gordon, who still claims he was the winner of the 2007 Montreal race even though NASCAR didn’t name him as such. The ever-antagonistic Gordon this weekend had the lead late and was contending for the win. Unfortunately for him, he ran out of gas during the g-w-c finish.

And last but not least, we have Marcos Ambrose, who once again dominated the race at Montreal – for the fourth year in a row – and STILL didn’t win. This time, mechanical issues took him out of contention. Last year, he messed up the last turn and got passed; the year before it was a pit road violation; and the year before it was on-track contact that robbed him of the win. Basically, he’s cursed here and has lost in almost every possible way despite having a car that could have won each year.

Amazingly, Marcos remains upbeat. This guy is always positive, despite the continuing disappointments coming his way at this track and elsewhere. That kind of positive attitude will get him a long way, and I see great things for his future. Whenever the Cup or Nationwide series go to a road course, he is probably the guy to beat. Eventually, he has to win here, and he knows that – which is probably why he takes it so well.

Add it all up, and this weekend’s race was one of the best I’ve seen all year, in any of the three series. I’d love to see a Cup race at Montreal, but recognize that is highly unlikely unless Watkins Glen or Sears Point drop their date … something I don’t see happening. Regardless, I look forward to the Nationwide race here, and wouldn’t mind seeing the Truck series show up, as Canada and the Montreal track certainly know how to put on a proper race.

Beats the average cookie-cutter track by a mile, if you ask me.

Villeneuve close again
Native son Jacques Villeneuve (literally … the track is named after his late father) has been trying to win this race for a few years, and he came close again Sunday. The guy knows one speed on this track – blazing fast – which is why he ended up basically driving a car with no brakes by the end of the race, and still put in fast laps and came in 3rd. This kind of perseverance and talent is why he was an Indy 500 and Formula 1 champ, and why he’s so fun to watch every time he pops up in a NASCAR race.

Brian Keselowski car has solid run
Brian Keselowski’s #26 car was on loan to Penske Racing’s Parker Kligerman for the weekend, and the team got a good owners points boost thanks to Kligerman’s great run of 8th place. This is another young kid in the Penske organization that has shown promise, and along with Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier he could be a big part of the organization’s future.

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