With most of the major series on a break this weekend, it was left to the touring car drivers to offer us some highs and lows. This makes my task this week rather more difficult, seeing as the only thing they usually offer up is crashes galore. I shall soldier on however…
King of the Hill – Gordon Shedden
Took his first two wins of the season in BTCC without much trouble, though bent steering ruined the final race of the day for him. It was still a step in the right direction though – finally getting his championship challenge back on track. He still has a fair gap to catch up with team-mate Matt Neal though…
Rising Up – Mattias Ekstrom
His NASCAR debut wasn’t exactly spectacular, nor was it a charging drive to the front – but when many series regulars started to lose their heads, he kept his. Starting outside of the Top 30, he quickly moved up into the Top 10 thanks to an unusual strategy – even leading the race for a handful of laps until being passed by eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson. He would have finished there too had it not been for Brad ‘Destroy everything in sight’ Keselowski spinning him out late in the race. In the final 10 laps he came from a lap down and 35th place to finish 21st – showing he really did have the pace to run with the Sprint Cup regulars.
Most crucial of all however was much more experienced team-mate Scott Speed driving around the back of the field all race and eventually inheriting an 18th place finish – Ekstrom made him look extremely average. A date clash with DTM means Red Bull won’t have the opportunity to hire him again for Watkins Glen though.
Midfield Mediocrity – Jacques Villeneuve
JV was making his NASCAR comeback in the Nationwide race at Road America – a track he won at in IndyCar 15 years ago. With most of the double duty drivers skipping the race it made the field a little bit lacking in quality compared to the norm, however Carl Edwards was still there – and he is no slouch when it comes to road courses. Villeneuve fought almost all race with him for victory, but in the end his car would decide his fate. An electrical fault on the penultimate lap coupled with a fender rub on his left-front tyre meant he dropped like a stone at the end, going from 2nd to 25th. He was fast – but he still won’t get the full time ride he desires.
Feeling Blue – Jordi Gene
Gene took his first win since 2008 at Zolder last week – for a few hours at least. A technical infringement robbed him of that win however, handing it to team-mate Tarquini instead. A turbo failure before Race 2 even started ended his weekend. The Spaniard walked away with nothing, and cementing his place merely as a member of the SEAT entourage, teaming up with Monteiro and Coronel to give Tarquini a push past the Chevrolets. He’s the 4th choice driver, just like his brother at Ferrari…
Rock Bottom – Marcos Ambrose
Last minute nerves – Ambrose seems to have a serial problem with them. Chucking away wins seems to be his speciality these days, and Sonoma was n0 exception. Getting stuck on a hill is a pretty rejectful way to throw away a win, especially when it would have been the first Sprint Cup victory of his career.
“It is what it is, it's a bitter pill to swallow, but we'll go away and come back stronger next time.”
If your oval form doesn’t improve pronto, there may not be a next time. This will go down in history as the biggest cock-up in NASCAR history – well, until the next one anyway.
The real reason I’m unhappy at Ambrose’s mistake? The JJ train continues to drive towards it’s 5th title, and even road course specialists can’t stop him from winning anymore, at what was once his achilles heel. Hopefully someone can out-chase the Chase master by the end of the year.