Don't ask Ron Fellows to explain the ruling that took away a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Road America on Saturday. He can't.
Fellows appeared to have won the Bucyrus 200 in Elkhart Lake, Wis., after he inherited the lead from Justin Allgaier, who ran out of gas on the last lap of the third and final try at a green-white-chequered finish.
Unfortunately, NASCAR didn't see it that way. Well, not immediately anyway.
While NASCAR officials ruled that Fellows was the leader and would take the win as the cars followed the pace car back to the finish line, it changed its mind about a minute after the race ended. Before the cars got back to their pitboxes, NASCAR declared Reed Sorenson the winner after ruling that Fellows passed the No. 32 Turner Motorsport driver illegally under caution.
"What the actual call was I don't know," Fellows said. "They never talked to me after the race."
Had NASCAR officials spoken to the veteran Canadian road racer - something you would think would be standard procedure - from Mississauga, Ont., he would have pointed out that Sorenson slowed greatly before the caution flag flew and that was the reason Fellows got by, not because the No. 32 driver reacted to the yellow and backed off.
"He stumbled for fuel coming off of Turn 3 and then I pulled up and went by and then the caution came out. I was going by when that yellow flag was thrown," Fellows said.
"I saw a bit of the replay today [Sunday]and there were people passing and carrying on because there were guys running out of fuel and shutting their cars off and that's what Reed Sorenson was doing I am sure."
The video evidence seems to back up Fellows' claim, since it appears to show that Sorenson had already slowed considerably and had lost considerable ground to leader Allgaier before the yellow waved. It would be a stretch at best to think that Sorenson was travelling at such a reduced speed a split second after the caution appeared as a reaction to the waved yellows.
"He was already going slow and the corner worker was just pulling out the yellow flag - there's no way that he could be going that slow that soon," Fellows said.
"I hear they [NASCAR]thought I was going too fast, but I maintain he slowed before the caution came up. I came off of Turn 3, saw him and got on the radio and said: 'He's done'."
In addition, it would be madness to expect a driver to slam on the brakes to stay behind another who has slowed his pace even if the rulebook says that passing under caution is not allowed. The in-car video of the incident from Fellows' No. 7 shows the speed differential was considerable. NASCAR's rulebook stipulates that a driver must keep a reasonable pace under caution, but not slow to safety car speed before the yellow flags wave.
Nevertheless, NASCAR saw things differently after reviewing the video and handed the win to Sorenson, ruling the field was frozen as soon as the yellow waved. So, Fellows was put back to second, while another Canadian, 1997 Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve, was placed third.
Fellows' No. 7 crew chief Tony Eury Jr. argued his driver's case for about an hour after the decision based on NASCAR's previous rulings in similar circumstances, but to no avail. One case likely cited by Eury was the incident last year in Sonoma, Calif., where Marcos Ambrose lost a win when he couldn't get his car fired up after turning it off to saving fuel during a yellow period. While Ambrose never stopped completely and got the car restarted, the six drivers who went past him when he slowed were allowed to keep their gained positions.
The killer for Fellows was that he was fine on fuel to get to the finish, even though the race went seven laps over the scheduled 50 due to the three green-white-chequered attempts after several late race incidents brought out cautions as the race came to a close. Had that last yellow not come out for a car that had already been beached in a gravel trap for almost an entire lap, Sorenson likely would have not made it to the finish at racing speed.
As it turned out, Fellows was in tough on the three restarts because he was having trouble finding rear grip and lost ground until he got the car up into third gear. On the last restart when he started second, it meant he could not keep pace with Allgaier and Sorenson when the green flew, which set the stage for the final lap drama.
"I had no rear traction left compared to the guys around me and I couldn't get restarted without spinning the tires so I was a sitting duck. I was just trying to survive," he said.
"At the end of the day it was once again entertaining and there will be chatter for a while. Half of the people think Sorenson is right and half think we should have won."
Fellows, 51, will be in Montreal for the NASCAR Nationwide race in August where he hopes to be in the same JR Motorsport car with the same crew chief, Eury. He won that race in 2008.