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A grandstand even Junior couldn’t dominate and other Montreal notes

By admin | August 2, 2008

By Richard Allen

 

I do not often do write ups for the Nationwide Series but today was an historic day for that series so it will be an historic day for this website as well.

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At any given NASCAR facility, be it Talladega, Darlington, Bristol or wherever, there is no doubt which driver is being introduced when the loudest cheer goes up from the grandstand. The most popular driver is easily Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The Montreal track has a unusual distinction for a NASCAR venue. The fans in those grandstands are overwhelmingly for two favorite drivers and those drivers are not named Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or even Jeff Gordon.

Granted, the Sprint Cup Series does not race in Montreal, yet. But, even if it did it or if the favorites from the Sprint Cup Series came there for some other race it would make little difference. The loyal Quebec fans showed unbridled enthusiasm for Quebec natives Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier.

The French speaking province of Canada is fiercely independent and extremely proud. So, there was little doubt who they were pulling for around the track named for Jacques’ father, Gilles Villeneuve.

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The real history making thing about this race, of course, is that it was the first points paying race in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions to be contested in the rain.

The race ran its first few laps in the dry. Then, the rains came. After a red flag put out to allow the hardest of the rain to subside the drivers of the Nationwide Series set off into uncharted territory for the big, heavy stock cars.

When it was first discussed that the race may have to be run in the rain I thought NASCAR was heading itself into a second disaster in two weeks.

However, the race actually went pretty well. It was not terribly competitive, but at the same time, it was not a caution filled wreck fest either.

Lap times were dramatically slower, often by as much as 30 seconds per lap, as drivers had to tip toe around the track to avoid trouble.

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Goodyear seemed to redeem itself in a small way. There were few if any tire problems and drivers were able to keep the cars on track for the most part. After last week, the tire maker had to feel much better about the way this race played out.

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While there was not any major tire trouble, there was trouble in regard to the strategies teams would be allowed to use in changing tires.

According to crew chief Frankie Stoddard, teams were told during the driver’s meeting that it would be at their discretion as to when they could use rain tires and the customary racing slicks. However, it was later announced that the sanctioning body would make the call rather than leave it up to the teams.

Stoddard argued that the sudden change in policy caused him to set his car up differently. He said had NASCAR made that announcement during the driver’s meeting there are things he would have done differently to the car driven by road course ace Boris Said.

Stoddard claims he did not have a chance to make those adjustments because NASCAR changed its policy too late in the going.

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Mechanically, the cars seemed to hold up very well considering they are not prepared for these type conditions. Brakes, ignitions and the various other parts which could have been affected by the wet for the most part were not.

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Seeing Carl Edwards use his makeshift window cleaning device to clean the outside of his windshield brought back memories of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. unstrapping himself and leaning out the window of his car under caution at Richmond to wipe off a dirty wind screen.

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I have never been a fan of Cup Series drivers traveling away from the Cup venue to race in Nationwide events, but this may be an instance where it was a good thing to do.

The rain withstanding, these drivers got extra road course seat time with Watkins Glen coming up next week. Also, think of the advantage these drivers will have should that race be run in the rain.

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NASCAR probably stayed with the race a bit too long, especially with drivers reporting they could not see very well.

Jacques Villenueve and Joey Logano crashed under caution when each of them hit another car they did not see until it was too late.

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While racing in the rain for the first time was unique and it provided for some unusual drama, I hope this is something that does not become commonplace in NASCAR.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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