because of the second-gear
chicanes. Third is purely
for acceleration – you’re not
in third for any of the
corners – and you take it up
to about 9000rpm. Then
fourth is very long because
you have long straights. Out
of the hairpin and down
that straight, to the final
corner, the S-bend onto the
straight, our Dodge
Challenger was probably
So one of the first things I did when I
arrived at the circuit on race weekend
was to check the brake pedal had been
adjusted the way I wanted it – short
travel and very hard. Because when you
approach that Turn 12 and hit the brakes,
you need to be braking hard! Because of
the car’s weight, the braking distance is
probably quadruple that of an IndyCar.
Straight away we were competitive. In
practice I was P3, and then I think
suddenly the guys saw that we had a real
shot at victory. So the team started
changing the car a bit according to my
feedback, and seeing as how we had the
basic pace, we decided to go for a setup
that was easier on the tires, and good for
the long runs on race day. As we went
into qualifying, Chad told me, “OK, you
have a good car for race stints, so just do
your best with this flying lap, just keep it
clean and don’t damage it, and you’ll be
able to pass people tomorrow.”
Anyway, I got out there, and lap 1, we’re
P1; lap 2, we’re P1; lap 3 we’re P1, and so
Chad says, “OK, come in.” But Jacques
stayed out and ended up beating us to
pole by a tenth. Never mind. The team
was just thrilled to have a Penske Dodge
front-row sweep – especially driven by
two Canadian drivers in Montreal.
As we went into the race, my biggest concern
was how much I had to save my equipment,
especially the brakes, in order to have my car still
strong at the end of the race. That’s one of those
situations where there is no substitute for
experience, which is the one thing I didn’t have!
It’s so hard to judge. The only other Nationwide
start I’d made, we’d had rain, we had lots of
yellows, and so on, so there was no comparison
in terms of how quick the equipment reaches
the end of its life. In the end, I discovered I could
have been more aggressive, because I still had
quite a bit of brake pad left.
Having said that, considering how the race played out, we
did several good clean passes on many cars, and didn’t make
any enemies – a very important part of NASCAR! When you’re
racing for the win with the series’ best road course driver,
Marcos Ambrose, you know you’re doing a good job, right? And
even his little nudge that got him past me was all part of the
stock car experience. I think the No. 12 team was quite satisfied
with runner-up position. They’ve taken my seat and put it in a
cupboard with my name on it, so hopefully I can do other road
course races for them in the future. I got e-mails from them
saying I did a good job, so that felt very satisfying.
So, overall, it was definitely one of the best experiences of
my racing career. Dodge got good media coverage; I tasted a
first-class Nationwide car with that Challenger, and run by a
first-class operation, Penske Racing. I hope my IndyCar diary
is free for NASCAR’s road course races next year.
Q&A with Dodge CEO
How pleased are you that the
Nationwide cars now look more
like the road-going models?
That was a big breakthrough,
something we’ve been working on with
NASCAR for almost five years. It was a
relief when that happened last year
and then became full time for this year.
Even from non-Mopar, non-Dodge fans,
we get a lot of positive comments, while
the true fans of our brand are really
proud to see “their” cars on track.
Historic moment as Villeneuve ( 22) and Tagliani lead the NNS field in front of their home crowd. (TOP) A young Alex was a huge fan of Jacques’ daddy as can be seen. (ABOVE) Chad Walter, who Tag describes as an “A-class guy.”
What are the pluses and minuses of
working with just the two-car Penske
Racing operation in NASCAR?
Lesley Ann Miller/LAT
Our thinking is to go for quality over
quantity, and if you’re only going to be
with one team, it’s great for it to be
Penske! Roger’s got a great ship going
there, and after the recent changes
with crew chiefs and so on, we’re all
starting to see the fruits of that. Brad
Keselowski is reigning Nationwide
champion (ABOVE), and both he and
Kurt are through to the Championship
Chase in Cup.
Our TV presence is as big as other
manufacturers’ because of the
prominence of our NASCAR team.
We’d love help once in a while because
we don’t have the network of cars to
create a train. But, right now, I’m very
happy with how much exposure Dodge
is getting on TV in NASCAR races.
How important was it to have Jacques
Villeneuve and Alex Tagliani in the NNS
cars in Montreal?
Montreal Canadians are racers. They
love their motorsports – having the
track right in the middle of your city
helps, I guess! So having hometown
heroes like Alex and Jacques always
helps. The local media love it and
there’s a lot more fanfare having them,
rather than Brad or Kurt. I expected
both of them to be fast and they were
and so they did a great job for Dodge.