MONTREAL (AP) - Robby Gordon was true to form, blunt in his answer to the initial question posed about his return to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the first time in three years.
“Did you mean since I won?” Gordon asked Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s Nationwide Series race. “We’ve still got the banner hanging on our wall. We came back for redemption, and we’ll do the best job we can.”
Gordon’s run-in with Marcos Ambrose made the inaugural Nationwide event in Montreal one that will long be remembered. Gordon passed Ambrose to take the lead late in the 2007 race, and Ambrose came right back and spun Gordon at the same time a caution was called for an accident far behind them.
Gordon, who didn’t get right back in line, thought he should have been second on the restart. Instead, NASCAR ruled he was 13th because he had not maintained reasonable speed after his spin. Gordon refused to drop back in the field, held second on the restart, and then spun Ambrose to deny the affable Aussie the win.
“It’s one of those things,” Gordon said. “What comes around goes around.”
Gordon continued on and was the first driver to cross the finish line, then did a big burnout to celebrate a victory that actually went to Kevin Harvick. NASCAR disqualified Gordon for disobeying a black flag and also suspended him for the next day’s Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono.
Both drivers have long since moved on.
“Robby and I actually get along pretty good,” said Ambrose, who will have most of his Sprint Cup crew in the pits. “We had our moment here in the first event. It was a defining moment for both of us in our careers. It set me up as a guy who is gracious in defeat and has been known for it, and it set Robby up as a bad guy for a while. I’m not too focused on him. I don’t predict any trouble between us.”
Ambrose has won three NASCAR races, all in the Nationwide Series on the road course at Watkins Glen. He should have more.
A year ago, he led 60 laps over the 14-turn, 2.7-mile Montreal circuit _ including 31 in a row before rain moved in for the second straight year. That gave Carl Edwards a chance, and he forced Ambrose into a mistake on the final turn of the race, slipped past him on the inside, and won the dash to the finish line.
In 2008, Ambrose led 27 laps but was caught speeding on pit road late in the race and Canadian Ron Fellows won the rain-shortened event, the first points race in NASCAR history to be run on rain tires.
There are no worries of rain this time. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s are predicted for Sunday. The drivers expect a difficult race because of the good weather and the strong contingent of road racing aces in the field, including former Formula One champ Jacques Villeneuve and rising 23-year-old French Canadian star Andrew Ranger, who was third in this race a year ago.
“It’s just so hard to pass,” said Cup regular Joey Logano, who made the trip to gain experience. “You have to be patient, but I think when you get the opportunity to pass someone you have to take that opportunity. You can’t wait and say, ‘Maybe this will be a little safe if I do it this way.’ It seems like, if they (the road course experts) get a little bit of a shot at it, they send it all the way and go for it.
“If you’re the one pushing people around, instead of getting pushed around, I think that’s kind of the way to look at it,” Logano said. “This track rewards aggressive driving, but when you drive aggressively things wear out.”
For all of Ambrose’s heartbreak on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, they pale in comparison to his awful gaffe in the Sprint Cup road race at Sonoma in June. He stalled his car while leading late, couldn’t maintain speed, and ended up sixth to winner Jimmie Johnson in a scenario eerily similar to Gordon’s here three years ago.
Ambrose will have to wait a year to return to Sonoma. He’s ready to make amends here, though, and brought the same No. 47 Toyota he used to win at The Glen three weeks ago.
“We feel like we’ve brought our best piece that we can, and hopefully the luck is on our side this year and we can forget the misfortune of the last three,” Ambrose said. “It’s not one thing, it’s been a combination of bad luck and problems out of our control that cost us the wins.”
It’s a rare off weekend for the Sprint Cup series and the second and final time under the current contract that the Montreal race will be a stand-alone event. It’s scheduled opposite Michigan in 2011.
One driver the field won’t have to worry about is Kyle Busch, who’s won a record-tying 10 Nationwide races this year. He did not make the trip to Montreal this year, racing instead Friday night and winning the truck series event at Chicagoland. A week ago, Busch swept the truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Bristol.
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