MONTREAL – Owen Kelly might just have the most agonizing job this week in the NASCAR Nationwide garage. For the second straight year, he was scheduled to qualify a car and then watch the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
"It's a funny feeling. It's really weird," Kelly said after posting the fourth fastest time in Friday's first practice for the NAPA 200 in Kyle Busch's No. 54 Toyota. "You've got to act like you're racing the car, think like you're racing the car. If he doesn't get here for some reason, then you are racing the car."
Busch, coming off an agonizing seventh-place finish in the Sprint Cup race at oil-spattered Watkins Glen International last Sunday — he was spun out by Brad Keselowski while leading on the final lap and Marcos Ambrose won it — is concentrating on the Cup race at Michigan this weekend but is flying to Montreal on Saturday to hopefully drive the 54 from the back of the field to Victory Lane.
"I was kidding with him the other day and said, 'If you wake up Saturday morning and you feel like just hanging out in the motor home, I'll handle it up here,' " Kelly said, smiling. "He laughed, thought it was pretty funny. I think he's keen on being here and trying to win this race."
For what it's worth, Kelly qualified fifth and will give Busch all the feedback he can — if and when Busch arrives.
Kelly did the same thing last year, but for Ambrose, his fellow Tasmanian and a good friend.
Last year, Ambrose, Carl Edwards, and Trevor Bayne made it to the Montreal race about 25 minutes before the start from the Sprint Cup event in Michigan. They arrived on Edwards' jet — a two-hour flight — helicoptered to the track and took a boat along the Olympic rowing basin that abuts the track to the garage area.
"I did the parade lap and everything," Kelly said. "Right at the end of that, they said, 'He's here.' I walked up to him and said, 'I can't say I'm that happy to see you.' "
Kelly took a seat and then watched his fellow Aussie drive from the back of the field, get caught up in an accident with pole-sitter Jacques Villeneuve, and then rally to win the race.
Kelly, 35, is the son of road rally racer Chas Kelly. He started his racing career in Formula Ford, then went to V8 Supercars in 2000. He's known Ambrose since they were 9 years old racing go-karts against one another.
"We grew up about an hour away from each other, so we were going to the same go-kart tracks racing," Kelly said. "It was really cool to come here last year and win that race with him. It's a really cool thing that we can both share with our kids one day."
In 2008, Kelly raced an asphalt late model for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Motormile Speedway in Radford, Va. and dreams of following Ambrose to NASCAR.
"I'd like to be doing what Marcos is doing," said Kelly, who made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide series at Road America in 2010 driving for Baker Curb Racing. He started ninth and finished fifth. "I'm proud of what he's done. I learn a ton off Marcos all the time because he's a very, very clever guy.
"To get a foreign guy to come over here and start in a truck, an unsponsored truck, and in six years be winning Cup races, find your way through all of that and make it all happen like he's made it all happen, it's pretty phenomenal," Kelly said. "It's definitely harder for a guy from another country. He's got himself in a Cup car and he's really part of this thing now, isn't he?"
JUST DRIVE, BABY: Alex Tagliani seems like the French Canadian version of Tony Stewart. He just has to be in a car somewhere all the time.
Tagliani, a regular driver for Team Barracuda in the IZOD IndyCar series, was supposed to be in China this weekend, but the event was canceled in late June. So the veteran from Lachenaie, Quebec, will drive the No. 30 Chevrolet on Saturday in the NAPA 200 at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
That's not all.
Before the Nationwide race, Tagliani will drive for Starworks Motorsport, which is coming off a 1-2 finish at Watkins Glen in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. He'll start the No. 8 Ford/Riley Daytona Prototype of Scotsman Ryan Dalziel, then hop out and co-drive the No. 2 Ford/Riley with Alex Popow. Sebastian Bourdais would have been in the No. 2, but he wasn't able to make it to Montreal because he's testing at Sonoma in IndyCar.
Dalziel and Lucas Luhr and Bourdais and Popow finished 1-2 last week at Watkins Glen International, moving Dalziel within six points of defending DP champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas with three races remaining in the season. Bourdais and Popow won the previous race at Indianapolis.
Drivers in the series may be entered in more than one car in a race, but that driver must qualify and start in one of the cars and is only awarded points for the first car driven.
Tagliani, who topped Thursday's final practice, qualified third in the No. 8 on Friday, then won pole position for the Nationwide race.
He has an ulterior motive. He's hoping to land a ride in the Rolex 24-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which kicks off every season in the series.
"I really wanted to take it (the DP ride). I knew it was going to be very busy," said Tagliani, who will do a short stint in the car and finish the race in the No. 2. "I really want to do the 24 and every single time I called a team to do it I just didn't have the experience in the car, so they were reluctant to put you in the car for a very important race."
As for going from the sleek Daytona Prototypes and their monster brakes to a Nationwide car on Saturday, Tagliani had one thing on his mind.
"Don't forget what car you're driving," he said with a laugh.
ANOTHER POLE FOR FOGARTY: Jon Fogarty won the pole in Daytona Prototype for Saturday's Montreal 200 in the Grand-Am Rolex Series.
Fogarty, who will co-drive with Alex Gurney in the two-hour race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, clocked a fast lap of 104.712 mph (1 minute, 33.135 seconds) on the 2.7-mile road course in the No. 99 Bob Stallings Racing Corvette. The pole was the 23rd of Fogarty's career, extending his all-time series record.
Memo Rojas qualified second in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley despite spinning out. Hometown favorite Alex Tagliani, driving in the class for the first time, qualified third in the No. 2 Starworks Motorsport Ford/Riley.
In the production-based GT class, John Edwards landed his third pole of the season, turning a lap at 98.343 mph (1 minute, 39.167 seconds) in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
SPARK PLUGS: In four NASCAR Nationwide starts on the Montreal track that bears his father's name, Jacques Villeneuve has an average finish of 12.5 and an average driver rating of 112.7. The latter figure tops the series. ... Only three drivers entered in Saturday's NAPA 200 have won a Nationwide race this season — Elliott Sadler (4), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3), and Austin Dillon (1). ... Led by Jacques Villeneuve, 10 Canadian drivers were entered in the NAPA 200. In last year's race, Villeneuve captured the pole and teammate Alex Tagliani qualified second to mark the last front row qualifying sweep in Nationwide for Penske Racing, while Ron Fellows has one win and two top-fives in five Nationwide starts at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
John Kekis can be followed at http://twitter.com/Greek1947