August 22, 2011
Strong races by Tagliani, Fitzpatrick
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Jacques Villeneuve emerged as the biggest loser at the NASCAR Nationwide NAPA 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve but two other Canadian drivers could end up the biggest winners.
First off, 23-year-old J.R. Fitzpatrick threw off a season-long string of bad luck finishes to pull off a fine display of driving Saturday, coming from a lap down to fifth place in the No. 67 Go Canada Racing Ford Mustang. That performance certainly will go a long way to re-establishing Fitzpatrick as Canada's top prospect to make the jump to full time status in the Nationwide Series next season.
It also ratifies Go Canada Racing as a team to be reckoned with in NASCAR's second-most popular loop.
That Fitzpatrick was able to maintain his composure after losing a lap because of some electrical issues with the car shows that he might also be finding the maturity that at times was missing earlier in the season when he found himself frustrated on the race track.
His march to the front on Saturday should also provide a spark for the remainder of this season in both the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and Nationwide.
The other big winner was Alex Tagliani. He bested Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier -- his rivals for the affection of Quebec racing fans -- and that should put an end, once and for all, that he was the third man on that totem pole.
It also give Tagliani a very nice, and potentially lucrative, new career option, should he decide that he wants to move from the IZOD IndyCar Series.
He not only was fast all day in Montreal but he brought home the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge in almost new condition, something that is very much valued in NASCAR.
Tagliani has an excellent record, as well, in dealing with sponsors. Witness his personal two-plus season deal with electronic entertainment giant Bowers & Wilkens in IndyCar that could move with him if he decides he likes the idea of racing stock cars for a living.
After all, the switch has worked out very well for Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya.
WICKENS WINS BIG
Canada's Robert Wickens might have won the most important pair of victories of his young career Saturday and Sunday at Britain's Silverstone Circuit.
The 22-year-old from Toronto won both races in Round 7 of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in front of a crowd estimated at 120,000 at the Formula One track.
Wickens is currently a reserve driver for the Virgin F-1 team and hopes that a championship this season in FR 3.5 will garner him the sponsorship deal he needs to make the jump full time with Virgin.
The two weekend wins for his Carlin Racing team puts Wickens at the top of the leaderboard with 198 championship points, 34 points ahead of his nearest rival, France's Jean Eric Vergne.
It also seals the team championship for Carlin.
"It feels fantastic to have a weekend like this," Wickens said. "Hopefully we can keep this going. I set myself a personal goal of five wins this season so I'm getting close."
Wickens said he knew that he was in for a good racing weekend when he spotted someone on pit lane wearing at Maple Leafs sweater.
"All in all it's been an amazing weekend and with so many people here it had a fantastic atmosphere, I even spotted someone wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs shirt," he said.
There are just two more rounds in the FR 3.5 series, the next coming in September at Paul Ricard Circuit in France.
After back-to-back NASCAR road course victories at Watkins Glen and Montreal, Marcos Ambrose found himself in more familiar territory Sunday when he finished 27th in the Sprint Cup Pure Michigan 400. Ambrose, like Montoya, must get an oval win to be considered a legitimate top-notch stock car racer ... Andrew Ranger's win in the NCATS on Saturday was enough to get him another shot at Sprint Cup racing. He is said to be in line to drive the No. 32 Frank Stoddard Ford at Miami Homestead Speedway in the final race of the season.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP
Kyle Busch won his fourth nasCaR sprint Cup race this season, but the first of his career at Michigan International speedway when he beat five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish in the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.
Busch's margin of victory in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was a mere .568 seconds over Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Brad Keselowski finished third in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge with Mark Martin fourth in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five in the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Busch had been in front of the pack, well in front of Johnson, when his brother Kurt Busch caused a caution when his no. 22 Penske dodge slammed the wall on Lap 197 to set up the green-white-checkered finish.
Johnson chose the outside lane for a restart and used the clean air to his advantage, pulling away to a lead of more than a second before Busch began to cut into his lead.
Then on Lap 198, Busch cleared Johnson into turn 1 with what turned out to be the winning pass.
With the victory, Busch stays on top of the Cup points ladder and he became the first driver to clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Pole sitter Greg Biffle had dominated the early part of the race in the no. 16 Roush Fenway racing Ford, leading a total 86 of the 200 lap race but stumbled badly on a late pit stop that put him back in the pack.
He finished 20th.