You hear the question again and again: why can’t open wheel drivers make the transition to stock cars? Why can’t winners in Indy car racing, say, transition over to NASCAR and win?
The people who ask those question, of course, are primarily NASCAR reporters and fans who love sticking it to the Indy car drivers.
Although Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. haven’t exactly set the world on fire in NASCAR, and the jury is still out on Danica Patrick, they conveniently forget that Tony Stewart did it (from Indy car champion to NASCAR champion is pretty good) and they are currently overlooking another guy who’s pretty good at it too.
His name is Alex Tagliani, who’s a top-level Indy car star who’s driving in stock cars as well as sports cars this weekend in Montreal as the Nationwide Series makes its annual visit to le Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
In fact, in today’s Nationwide race, he’ll start on the pole. Horish will start beside him, with old friends Jacques Villeneuve and Danica Patrick beside him on the second row.
(An aside here: I earlier wrote that for the first time that I can remember, there is not one regular Sprint Cup driver in today’s race. At the last moment, Kyle Busch flew in from Michigan and planned to start at the back of the field.)
In any event, "Tag" is on pole and he seems to do really well every time he climbs into a stock car. In fact, years ago he saved his Indy car career when he won a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race in Edmonton and demonstrated in front of the Champ Car World Series owners that he still very much "had it."
This is not the first time that a hometown hero has won the pole in Montreal. Carpentier did it in 2007 and Villeneuve sat on it last year, but that didn’t mean Tag wasn’t overjoyed.
"I want to dedicate this pole to the fans who come and make this event so special," said Tagliani, while pointing to the grandstands. "I feel that there was still a tenth or two left in the car. I wanted to do a third flying lap with the tire pressures and temperatures at their best but my crew chief, Trent Owens, wanted me to save fuel so we have one more lap to go in our first stint in the race."
After the Nationwide race, Tagliani will have to change driving styles because he'll be driving in tonight's Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race, also at Montreal.
All of these races - plus a tape of the Canadian Tire race which was held this morning (which was won by J.R. Fitzpatrick, after a thrilling duel with Andrew Ranger) - are on TV today. Please check George's TV listings For Race Fans on this site for times and channels.
One last thing: unless she's winning the race, don't be surprised if Patrick delivers a little payback today to Villeneuve for the incident at Road America several months ago where he got into the back of her car on the last lap and robbed her of a fifth-place finish.
These things happen in racing but it was his "not my fault, I don't care" response later that annoyed people, including his sponsor who went so far as to issue a statement critical of the one-time F1 world champion.