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Racing roundup: On Danica, Jimmie Johnson and others

Published August 19, 2012

Musings, ramblings and confessions after a weekend of auto racing:

– You have to laugh about everything that’s happened to poor Danica Patrick this year, her first full-time season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She’s done just fine qualifying and the speed is there but Murphy’s Law has never been more clearly defined than when applied to her when she’s road-course racing.

Earlier this year, at Road America, she was less than a half-lap from a top five finish when Jacques Villeneuve forgot to brake and knocked her off the track.

Last week at Watkins Glen, she was on the inside going into Turn One when a car that went flying past her on the grass re-entered the track right in front of her and stopped. She had nowhere to go and hit it dead-on, knocking her out of the race.

Saturday at le Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, she qualified fourth and was leading the race – leading – when somebody threw a shoe on the track and she hit it. I mean, really. She had other mechanical problems but when she hit that shoe her race went south, so the timing couldn’t have been worse.

One of these days, she will win and that will get the monkey off her back. There’s no doubt the talent’s there; she’s just got to get it all together – speed, strategy, race craft and, most important for her, luck.

Justin Allgaier won his first road-course race at Montreal and the third of his Nationwide career, with Sam Hornish Jr. second and Jacques Villeneuve third. Details here

Now, it has been suggested by some that NASCAR kept throwing yellows so that a “regular” could win the race instead of a ringer, particularly if said ringer happened to be the son of the guy the Montreal circuit’s named after.

If not for the phantom yellows that left him low on fuel, or so go the the theories, Jacques Villeneuve would have won the race.

Now, JV denied that he was running out of gas on the final lap (although he did run out on the cooldown lap) and lost the race because Allgaier ran into him. Maybe. But there’s no doubt he was worred he was going to stall out because he was running noticeably slower on the last lap than the eventual winner.

Having said that, Allgaier didn’t have any fuel problems, so if NASCAR was playing fast and loose with the yellows, it didn’t appear to hurt him.

And nobody was shedding any tears for Villeneuve anyway. The Danica punt in Wisconsin was still fresh in everybody’s mind and he turned Alex Tagliani around late in the Montreal race. The fact that he was angry after being hit by Allgaier was really very amusing. Did somebody say it was like the pot calling the kettle black?

Two other quick notes: For the last fillup, Allgaier pitted later than the others, which explains why he had more fuel when the race got down to the short strokes. And why did he do that? Because at Road America in 2011, he ran out of fuel on the last lap. He obviously learned a lesson.

Oh, and Ron Fellows, Mississauga’s most famous athlete, finished fifth a week ago at Watkins Glen and was fifth at Montreal on Saturday. He is an absolutely incredible race driver.

– NASCAR hasn’t got a clue about yellows on road courses, period, as we saw at Montreal, and they sometimes over-react on ovals, too. David Gilliland lost control early in the Michigan Sprint Cup race Sunday afternoon and went flying through the infield grass but then got straightened out and went back on the track, albeit half a lap behind.

But he didn’t hit the wall and there was no damage or debris anywhere. But as soon as he started sliding, the yellow was on and there was really no need for it.

It’s a good excuse to close up the pack, though. Isn’t it . . . ?

– In the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Montreal, J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge won, with Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., second and Robin Buck of Campbellville third. Scott Steckly of Milverton was fourth, he’s the defending national champion, and the leader of this year’s championship chase, D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, finished fifth. Next race is at Barrie Speedway Sept. 8.

- As NASCAR doesn’t have a clue about yellow flags on road courses, neither does it have a clue so far as passes for the lead on road courses are concerned. Their rule is that in the case of a yellow, the order of finish from the last completed lap will be the order for the restart. Fine on ovals, stinks on road courses.

Ranger had passed Fitzpatrick fair and square and was clear and away in front of him when somebody spun at the back of the pack and since they all hadn’t completed the lap, the order had to revert to the previous . . . yada, yada, yada – you know what I’m saying, eh? – and when they restarted the race J.R. was back in first and Ranger was second and that is not fair, not fair, not fair. (I sound like Jack Lemon as Prof. Fate in The Great Race. . .)

– Okay, moving right along, I apologize for making the same mistake over and over. Every time I write anything about Lewis Hamilton, I say he’s won two world championships. Of course, he’s only won one but that hasn’t seemed to penetrate my thick skull. The latest example was in a story I wrote on the weekend that appeared on wheels.ca and in Toronto Star Wheels. I could change it online but not in the paper. Sorry.

It’s like every time I go to write 1996. It always comes out 1969. Why?

– They say auto racing has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We saw both in the Sprint Cup race at Michigan Sunday.

With nine laps to go, Jimmie Johnson took the lead in the race and the TV cameras showed his crew chief, Chad Knaus, fist-pumping with delight. Three laps later, his engine let go and Greg Biffle went blowing by him.

Biffle went on to win the race and Johnson drove straight to the garage area. He passed a dejected Knaus, who was walking in the same direction. Details here

Remember that Grand Prix of Monaco a half-dozen years ago, in 2006, when Kimi Raikkonen dropped out while in second place and he got out of his car and was so angry that he kept his helmet on while he walked around the course to his yacht in the harbour, where he disappeared below decks?

Well, Johnson got out of his car yesterday and didn’t take off his helmet. He walked from his car, between several transport trucks and through the hospitality area on the way to his motorhome.

He was obviously so upset that one of his PR aides, a woman, started to follow him and then thought better of it, staying behind in the garage area.

It’s not often that you see Jimmie Johnson so browned off.

– By the way, while the Nationwide stock cars were at Montreal, the Camping World Truck Series was the support race for the Sprint Cup cars in Michigan and that race Saturday was won by Nelson Piquet Jr.

Piquet, who was forced to leave Formula One after admitting to participation in the conspiracy to fix the Singapore GP in 2008, would appear to have completed his rehabilitation. Look for him to move up to Sprint Cup before long.

– Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Montreal on Saturday. Paul Tracy was third (with others). Alex Tagliani finished seventh. John Edwards and Robin Liddell won in GT. Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato driving the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge Ferrari were second in GT. Paul Dalla Lana of Toronto, who was featured in Wheels last weekend and who won the GT class at Watkins Glen a week ago, had a miserable race in Montreal and didn’t finish. There were only 21 cars in the Montreal race – and people can make as many excuses as they want but it’s the border. Americans competing in semi-professionals series like the Grand Am Rolex and the American Le Mans Seriesm and who are field-fillers will run all the races in the U.S. and skip the ones up here. It’s a shame.

– At Road America, where 35 cars showed up for the American Le Mans Series race (as compared to 26 that started the ALMS race at Mosport in July, see?), the closest finish in the history of the series took place with the P1 Lola-Mazda entry of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith defeating Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr in their Muscle Milk HPD ARX-Honda by 0.083 seconds.

Tony Burgess of Toronto (and others) was third overall. Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier were first in P2, Tom Kimber-Smith, Jon Bennett and Alex Powpow were first in Prototype Challenge (Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, and others, who was on pole in PC, finished third in class and seventh overall), Bill Auberlen and Jorg Muller were winners in the GT class and Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen were first in GT Challenge.

By the way, P2 driver Scott Tucker finished 11th and 12th overall in the race and third and fourth in the Prototype 2 class. How?

He teamed with Christophe Bouchut in one car – he did the first stint of driving – and with Luis Diaz in the second – he drove the final stint in the second car.

– In Canadian Touring Car Championship action at Montreal, Sasha Annis won the first race in Super Touring , with Jocelyn Hebert tops in Touring Class and Karl Wittmer in B-Spec. In the second race, Marc-Antoine Camirand was the winner in Super Touring, Damon Sharpe won Touring Class and Wittmer repeated in B-Spec.

The Touring Car championship will wrap its season over Labour Day weekend at Calabogie Motorports Park.

– Robbie Wickens of Guelph and Toronto had his best weekend in the German Touring Car Championship since he started his rookie season in the spring. He qualified ninth and finished seventh at the Nurburgring driving for Mercedes. Canadian driver Bruno Spengler won the race in a BMW.

– In World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series action, Sammy Swindell got over his disappointment at missing out on starting the Knoxville Nationals by winning the feature at Grand Forks, N.D., at the weekend.

In other sprint car news, Dustin Daggett of Grand Ledge, Mich., won the Northern Summer Nationals Championship by finishing first in the feature at Chatham-area South Buxton Speedway Saturday night.

- And two weeks out from the Budweiser Oswego Classic 200 for supermodifieds, Joe Gosek won his 42nd feature at the famous northern New York Oswego Speedway, which puts him fourth on the all-time win list behind Eddie Bellinger Jr., Bentley Warren and Jim Shampine.

And by finishing fifth in the super feature, Otto Sitterly of Canajoharie, N.Y., won his fifth Oswego Speedway track championship. I think Sitterly has one of the neatest names in all of auto racing, right up there with Parnelli Jones. I also think Otto has the talent to go to Indy. His sometimes-supermodified teammate, Davey Hamilton, could help pave the way.

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