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TERRYJONES

, Last Updated: 5:20 AM ET

Last year, the Rexall Edmonton Indy was the only race remaining in Canada as a result of the merger between ChampCar and the Indy Racing League.

Only in Edmonton. Pity.

But welcome back Toronto.

This is better. Way better.

Having the Toronto Indy back as the lead-in race to Edmonton does nothing but help the July 24-26 event in dozens of different directions.

There was no better example of that than yesterday.

There was, of course, the built-in annual reminder of how dramatically better the Edmonton Indy is to watch in person, where you can see the entire track instead of a very small section. And there's also the reminder of how much better it is on television as well without the eyesore track in a concrete canyon.

FUTURE FOR JUDD

It also provides an introduction which was done in a big way yesterday with Scotland's Dario Franchitti winning the race after spending last year trying out NASCAR. Not to mention the reminder that with Franchitti usually comes his wife, actress Ashley Judd, who off her post-race interview should seriously consider work as an auto racing colour commentator when she isn't shooting movies.

Having a non-oval race as a lead-in also reminds you how much more spectacular and how much more fun the road races, with about a dozen turns, are to watch than most of the oval races with four left-hand turns.

Certainly more cars have a chance to be in the mix and have a chance to win during this stretch of the season when they get to do what at least 75% of the drivers in the field consider to be "real" racing.

And then there's the Crazy Canuck carry-over factor. And that's where the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy won biggest.

It was like Scott Goodyear said at the end of the ABC telecast: "I look for fireworks two weeks from now in Edmonton. There are a lot of good pairings going on."

Northlands should prepare boxing-style posters to paper the town in the next two weeks featuring Paul Tracy vs. Helio Castroneves and Alex Tagliani vs. Tomas Scheckter.

This column has been highly critical of Northlands for spending significant money to sponsor Tagliani after losing $5.4 million on their first attempt to run this race, due largely to an inability to find serious sponsorship.

But sometimes in this business stuff happens to make you eat your words and stuff definitely happened involving Tagliani all over the place in the Toronto race.

Northlands received full value for the money spent and now has Tagliani as a legitimate drawing card going into this race, which he really wasn't until yesterday.

First of all, the Canadian driver who didn't have a ride in the big race and drove to a win in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series here last year, managed to qualify fifth, quickly secure second and then actually take the lead of the race when Franchitti's team made a mess out of a pit stop. And there, having moved up seven spots on the first lap, sitting in fourth behind him was Canada's Paul Tracy.

Not long after, the two Canadians were 1-2.

Tagliani led the race for a total of 21 laps before he eventually ended up ninth.

If he hadn't manufactured enough television time in the lead, Tagliani added more when, with 11 laps to go he plowed into Sheckter.

Viewers would watch in disbelief as Scheckter, out of his car, refused to leave the track until he threw his gloves at Tagliani in a highly animated expression of disgust and contempt when the Canadian came by on his next lap.

Scheckter then went on TV and called it "a stupid move" and "a non-brain move."

Tracy was knocked out of the race intentionally by the most popular (male) driver in the series.

Tracy had been left high and dry with the merger last year until sponsorship came through to give him a ride for the Edmonton race where he proved he could still be The Thrill From West Hill by driving the car like he stole it to finish fourth.

HELIO BOOED

But yesterday, after he bumped sideways into this year's Indy 500 champion to begin the incident, Castroneves then took Tracy into the wall and out of the race in 19th place. Castroneves heard boos from the Toronto crowd.

The Brazilian who has three times climbed the fence for the fans after winning the Indy 500 and was a huge hit winning the Dancing With The Stars TV event, said he'd never been booed before.

And Danica Patrick finished fifth. On a road course!

We're going to need the full two weeks just to set up the Edmonton race.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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