MONTREAL – Kevin Harvick held off hometown star Patrick Carpentier to win the inaugural Busch Series race in Canada on Saturday, but Robby Gordon defiantly tried to claim the victory in a controversial finish that thrilled the crowd and infuriated NASCAR.
Marcos Ambrose was headed toward what would have been his first NASCAR victory when Gordon passed him after a restart with four laps to go as several cars crashed behind them. Gordon was out front for mere seconds before Ambrose nudged him from behind to send him into a spin as Ambrose reclaimed the lead.
Gordon was stuck idling on the historic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as the field roared by him under caution. When he recovered, he raced back to the front and gave Ambrose a retaliatory bump, then tried to move into the first position behind the pace car.
Gordon believed he was in first – and at worst, second – when the caution waved. But NASCAR said the spin left him unable to maintain his position and ordered him back to 13th.
He refused to drop back, and was in the second position behind Ambrose when the race resumed with three to go. NASCAR immediately stopped scoring him, but Gordon continued to race on.
Gordon knocked Ambrose out of his way and moved into the unofficial lead, but NASCAR refused to acknowledge him and waved the black flag every time he sped past the flagstand.
Andy Pilgrim was behind Gordon but ran out of gas, putting Harvick into the lead with Montreal native Carpentier right behind him. Carpentier made an attempt to get past Harvick, but when the move failed, he faded back and never mounted another challenge as Harvick rolled to the win.
But Gordon was also celebrating, doing victory burnouts on the track at the same time as Harvick.
“I won the race,” Gordon said after exiting his car.
NASCAR officials left the scoring tower and went straight to their office, where Gordon met them minutes after climbing from his car. He left the meeting with a copy of the rule book, but he was still seething.
“You always go back to your position if you get spun out, and (Ambrose) spun me under the caution,” Gordon said.
“They told me originally to go back to second place, and I went back to second place. Then halfway around the last (caution) lap, they said to go back to 13th place or 14th place, something like that.
“I was never running 13th or 14th, so I don’t know what to say.”
NASCAR President Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, declined to comment when they left their office after the meeting with Gordon. The executives headed straight to Pocono, Pa., for Sunday’s Nextel Cup event, and there was rampant garage speculation that Gordon will be suspended from the event.
Max Papis finished third, Canadian Ron Fellows was fourth and Stephen Leicht rounded out the top five. Ambrose, who should have won, wound up seventh.
The wild ending capped a brilliant weekend for NASCAR and Stock Car Montreal in their first partnership. A crowd of 68,150 began packing the grandstands hours before the race, and event organizers said the walk-up crowd was the best the circuit has ever drawn.
Although the annual Formula One event draws upward of 100,000 fans, organizers were ecstatic with their two-day total of 129,473 because no one was certain how the open-wheel crazed nation would accept the full-bodied stock cars.
“This has been better than we could have dreamed for,” general manager Martin Spalding said. NASCAR chairman Brian France agreed, as he and top series officials spent Saturday mingling and marveling over the reception.
“They have run big events here before, so we expected it to be an organized, well-done affair,” France said. “And it has been.”
This is NASCAR’s second international trip – the Busch Series has raced in Mexico City since 2005 – as France tries to promote the brand on foreign soil. It helped tremendously that Carpentier and Fellows, two fan favorites, were in contention for the win and the crowd roared with approval every time they passed by.
“I could tell it was (Carpentier) behind me because the grandstands were waving everything they had at him,” Harvick said. “I knew it wasn’t for me.”