CT series tough to beat

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

The three best motorsport races in Canada in 2007 all had one thing in common -- the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

At Mosport's road course, at Edmonton's City Centre Airport track and at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, the NACTS provided fans with the most exciting, competitive and close racing anywhere last year.

And on Saturday at the Rexall Edmonton Indy, it says here, it will be a more exciting race than the Indy Racing League show that will follow later in the day.

When former open-wheel star Andrew Ranger and defending Canadian stock car champion J.R. Fitzpatrick -- both barely out of their teens -- locked horns on the temporary airport layout in Canada's northernmost big city last year, it was a thing of beauty.

Later, at Montreal, Ranger had another spectacular duel right to the final lap, this time with Kerry Micks. There were about 50,000 fans -- not one of them sitting -- cheering for Ranger as he and Micks beat and banged on each other right to the finish line.

Unfortunately for Ranger, he lost both of those battles but did win a repeat of his clash with Fitzpatrick at Mosport.

The thing that is amazing about it is that last season, the Canadian Tire series was brand new and, in reality, there was a lot of doubt about whether the France family could pull off in Canada what it has done so successfully in the U.S. with its NASCAR brand.

Well, those doubting Thomases are nowhere to be found this season, as a new driving hero -- Scott Steckly in the No. 22 Tow Truck in a Box/Erb Group Dodge -- has added more spice to an already hot lineup. Both Ranger and Fitzpatrick are back, as is Micks, and five-time champion Don Thomson Jr.

Another former open-wheel racing star -- Montreal's Alex Tagliani -- has joined the series this year as teammate to Ranger in the No. 7 Jacombs Racing Ford.

Tagliani, who still has lots of miles left in his 34-year-old body, is telling everybody who asks just how much he is enjoying racing the big stock cars.

Even if he gets an offer to go back to Indy cars, Tagliani pledges that he will try to do double duty in the NASCAR series.

Just to accentuate the point, a group of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, including Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, almost missed the drivers' meeting for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA 200 in Montreal last season because none of them could pull themselves away from watching the final lap of the NACTS race. There is little doubt that the Indy Car drivers will be watching closely Saturday in Edmonton too.

BRICKYARD GAINS STATURE

The folks in Daytona and Charlotte are not going to like hearing this but the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is fast becoming -- if it hasn't already -- the most important race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar.

Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway unofficially marks the start of the final half of the season and, more importantly, history is now showing that the winner has a better than average chance to going on to be champion.

A look back at some previous Brickyard winners -- Jeff Gordon in 1998 and 2001; Dale Jarrett in 1999; Bobby Labonte in 2000; Tony Stewart in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006 -- will show that each went on to win the championship in that year.

Coincidence? I think not.

TAKE THAT JACQUES

Just when Canada's Jacques Villeneuve is set to drive a top car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Montreal Aug. 2, the boys from Daytona throw a wrench into his plans.

Villeneuve has a deal to drive the No. 32 Braun Racing Toyota Camry at the track named for his late father. He still will, but NASCAR issued a rule change yesterday that will rob the team of about 50 horsepower.

NASCAR claims that Toyota has been winning too many races and in order to "level the playing field" it will force teams like Braun Racing to put restrictor plates on the carburetors fo their engines.

The rule takes effect Saturday at Indianapolis Raceway Park and will remain in effect for the remainder of the season.


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