Carl Edwards claimed a dominant Nationwide series win at Road America, after stiff competition from Jacques Villeneuve came to nothing after the Canadian suffered a broken battery on the penultimate lap.
It was a messy race – almost everyone made a trip through one of the gravel traps or spun out at some point. Even Edwards, who clearly had the fastest car all day had to fight his way back to the front at one point, his pit strategy working against him.
After a handful of minor scrapes at the start, the ‘big one’ came on lap 30.
No, this isn’t Talladega, there really was a big one on a road course.
Brian Scott spun out at the crest of the blind Turn 6, causing a traffic jam which no-one from behind could see. The cascade effect eventually caused the inevitable – a multi-car pileup. Tony Raines came over the crest as if nothing was there, ploughed into the back of Scott Riggs and briefly got airborne.
That brought out the red flags, and the field sat on the straight between Turns 4 and 5 for the following half an hour contemplating their next move.
The second half of the race had even more caution periods than the first half, including plenty of altercations at Turn 12.
This gave Villeneuve and Edwards the opportunity they needed to move back to the head of the field. After a caution with 12 laps to go, the pair went from 8th and 9th to 1st and 2nd in under a single lap, until another caution came out with 9 laps to go.
Fender damage was causing Villeneuve’s front right tyre to smoke excessively, and there was concern on the pit wall whether it would go the distance or not.
When the caution came out with 9 laps to go, Edwards had his chance to snatch the lead back. With his Canadian rival struggling with both his tyre issue and brakes, he pulled a switchback move going into Turn 1, and took the lead, which he wouldn’t relinquish all the way to the checkered flag.
Villeneuve’s race was far from over however – an electrical fault on the penultimate lap slowed his Toyota hugely, and dropped him all the way from 2nd to 25th by the end. What had been a great performance on his NASCAR comeback was ruined by something outwith his control.
This left fellow road-course specialist Ron Fellows to pick up the pieces and finish a distant 2nd, with series regular Brendan Gaughan not far behind in 3rd. Brad Keselowski was in damage limitation mode all weekend – he was never going to be able to live with Edwards’ pace, so 4th place limited the points loss in the championship as well as he could have hoped.
Rounding out the top 5 on his series debut, and following in compatriot Marcos Ambrose‘s footsteps was Owen Kelly, who put in a measured drive to avoid any major incidents after making the switch from V8 Supercars in his native Australia.
With the Sprint Cup race being held at Sonoma instead of Road America, the only top tier drivers here were Edwards and Keselowski, though the former insisted it was worth the 3600 mile round trip to be there and win the race.
“For sure!,” exclaimed Edwards. “What else was I going to be doing this afternoon, a vineyard or something? I’d much rather be here.”
Villeneuve meanwhile didn’t seem that disappointed after reliability ruined what would have been a great result.
“It was actually a lot more fun than expected,” he said. ” The cars drove really well around the course and it was a fun race. It was obviously a lot different than the last time I was here, but it was fun out there today.
“I was battling the front brakes all race, but they were actually better at the end of the race. I don't know if the temperature cooled down a bit, but I could drive a lot harder at the end.
“It's too bad. It's really annoying to work so hard all weekend and not have the result. The crew worked hard and my Dollar General car was amazing all weekend. It's just tough when you do two races and a year. You have to make the most of them.”
There was debate pre-race as to whether Road America would turn out to be a decent NASCAR track. Brendan Gaughan sounded convinced afterwards.
“This is a professional road course right here,” he said. “There's no making a different course out of it, short-cutting it, making it shorter. This is a man's man road course. I would love to see the Cup guys here. There is no way NASCAR says no. There had to be 90,000 people here. If that doesn't tell you – a Nationwide race just drew 90,000 people – that's a great show.”