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, 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?"