- Paul Grant
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MONTREAL -- Say this about the Montreal race: You can always count on something out of the ordinary.
On Saturday, fans saw the first points race run in the rain in NASCAR history. There were stock cars with wipers, rooster tails, more accidents under caution than under green and a race called due to inclement weather -- NASCAR fans in Montreal have yet to see what passes for a normal Nationwide Series race.
When all was said and damp, Canadian Ron Fellows was declared the winner with the cars parked on pit road under a red flag after 48 of 74 laps had been completed. Local favorite Patrick Carpentier was second for the second year in a row, followed by Australian Marcos Ambrose, who led the most laps and dominated the race, but lost his lead when he was penalized for pit-road speeding shortly before the race was called.
This came after last year's wild inaugural event that had three celebratory doughnuts by winner Kevin Harvick, Carpentier and Robby Gordon -- who crossed the finish line first but had been disqualified earlier by NASCAR for roughing up leader Ambrose.
At one point on Saturday, road-course ringer Fellows, 48, had built up a 45-second lead at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to winning his fourth Nationwide Series race. His previous three wins came at Watkins Glen during a hat-trick run from 1999-2001.
"It was a terrific day," said a clearly ecstatic Fellows, who as a kid watched Gilles Villeneuve run at this very track in rainy conditions. "This is really special. I think we did just fine to win the race."
Among the challenges for the drivers was keeping the powerful and burly cars on the track, keeping the windshields clear of condensation and keeping dry inside the car. (You can't exactly roll the windows up.) Finding a racing groove also proved to be a challenge, as the lines changed when the track was wet, an especially arduous task on a road course as twisty as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Puddles gathered on many parts of the track and the cars kicked up blinding spray as they split through them.
"Racing in the rain, you miss the whole race because you can't see anything," Carpentier said.
On Friday, Fellows had described running in the rain as "like skating with your skate guards on," which is likely only an informative analogy if you're Canadian, but an apt one, nonetheless.
"It was raining so hard at the end," Carpentier said. "I was mad they stopped it at the end, but they had to stop it."
The race started in dry conditions, but after seven laps it started to pour, bringing out the red flag. All cars then came into the pits, behind leader Scott Pruett. The teams were allotted three minutes (which stretched to eight) to apply the grooved tires, windshield wipers and anti-fogging solution inside and outside of the windshields. The biggest challenge for the teams -- aside from applying the tires to the correct side, as they are directional, unlike normal race tires -- was keeping support equipment dry in the pits.
If nothing else, it provided NASCAR with a topic to direct attention away from the tire controversy lingering from last week's debacle at the Brickyard: run on tires with grooves in them.
"The fans are going to have a show now," Carpentier told ESPN's Rusty Wallace during the broadcast as his rain tires were applied. And that's indeed what they got, of a sort.
On the restart, the first seven drivers all had experience running in the rain, whether it was in open-wheel cars or other series. Remarkably, there was no multicar pileup on the first lap after the stoppage, mainly because most of the cars crawled around the course while the drivers were figuring it all out.
If you're wondering why NASCAR doesn't just suck it up and run in rain all the time, it comes down to physics -- it's just too hard to provide enough grip and downforce to keep the cars from sliding up the track on ovals. On a flat track such as Indianapolis, the cars reach such great speeds that it's hard to slow them down.
Previously, NASCAR had run an exhibition in Japan in the rain and had held a practice session at Watkins Glen in the rain, but it had never run a points series race in conditions considered no big deal for open-wheelers.
Paul Grant is a deputy editor at ESPN.
It was a historic day for NASCAR as rain tires were used in a points race for the first time. And despite Canadian fans being denied a normal race for the second year in a row, the home country fans got to see a home country driver -- Ron Fellows -- glide to a rain-shortened win, writes Paul Grant.