MONTREAL - Canada’s two best young stock car drivers battled from the start to the finish of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series NAPA 100 on Saturday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
It was 24-year-old J.R. Fitzpatrick in he No. 84 Chevrolet, however, who took the checkered flag over 25-year-old Andrew Ranger in the No. 27 Dodge after a last lap crash ended the 23-lap race under a yellow caution flag.
And both expressed disappointment that NASCAR officials called the race at that point.
“I think the fans were cheated out of an exciting finish,” Ranger said.
The No. 11 Chevrolet of Michael Scholz and the No. 50 Dodge of Joey McColm wrecked on that last lap bringing out the combination yellow and checkered flags.
The NASCAR rule in that case is if the white flag to indicate the final lap has been shown — which is was on Saturday — then a subsequent yellow freezes the field and the race is considered complete.
“It was too bad because we were in a great fight with Andrew the whole race and it would have been nice to finish it under green,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick admitted that he was fearful that with his tires starting to give out he would have been a sitting duck for Ranger had there been one more lap to run under green.
“I was doing a lot of mirror driving,” he said. “Early in the race when my tires were hot my car was perfect but on cold tires on the re-starts I had nothing.”
Road racing specialist Robin Buck finished third in the No. 66 Dodge with Scott Steckly fourth in the No. 22 Dodge.
D.J. Kennington rounded out the top five in the No. 17 Dodge, maintaining his championship points lead with just three races left on the 2012 NCTS calendar.
If there was a surprise in the race it was that Fitzpatrick and Ranger managed to race each other so clean the entire 23-laps.
The pair have had some serious skirmishes over the past five seasons in Canada’s top stock car racing loop.
“I think we have grown to respect one another, even though we each race hard,” Fitzpatrick said.
There were moments, especially on the penultimate lap, when it looked like Ranger was ready to punt Fitzpatrick out of the way.
“I got to his back bumper a couple of times but I just couldn’t get past him,” Ranger said.
TRACY ON PODIUM
It has been more than five years since Paul Tracy has had a podium finish in a major auto racing series.
In fact it was back on June 24, 2007 in winning the Grand Prix of Cleveland in the defunct Champ Car World Series that Tracy last tasted champagne at a race track.
But on Saturday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Tracy was up there with co-driver David Donohue spraying the bubbly after his third-place finish in the Rolex Grand-Am Series race behind winners Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas and second-place finishers Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney.
“It has been so long since I’ve been in a competitive race car,” Tracy said. “It was just a privilege to drive the Action Express Corvette.”
The race didn’t start out so good for the Thrill from West Hill.
In the first turn the No. 90 Corvette of Michael Valiante spun out right in front of Tracy.
“I hit him and put a hole in the front of my car and that out us in a hole on the race track,” Tracy said.
But over the next hour of the two-hour race the 2003 Champ Car champion clawed back.
“We were back in seventh place but I was able to get up as high as fourth, I think, before we made a driver change,” he said. “Then David just drove like a mad man. He did a great job and we came through with a podium.”
Tracy hasn’t anything else on his date book for this season but hopes that his performance Saturday in Montreal and his fifth-place finish in a year-old car at Indianapolis last month will be enough to garner him a full time contract in Grand-Am for next season.
“I will be waiting by the phone,” he said.