Owen Kelly hoping to follow in Ambrose’s footsteps
While his fellow countryman basks in the glow of the spotlight, Owen Kelly might be wondering if he will ever draw the attention of the eyes of the NASCAR world.
Despite a prolific auto racing career – which includes several stints with the V8 Supercars Endurance circuit – Kelly, who came to America in 2010 with the stated goal of moving up the stock car ranks, has thus far made minimal impact in the NASCAR scene.
Meanwhile, fellow Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose, coming off his second career victory at Watkins Glen in early August, is receiving plenty of the limelight, as he remained a contender for most of the season for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, before ultimately falling just short.
On the same weekend that Ambrose was following up his Watkins Glen win with a respectable fifth place finish in Michigan, Kelly had to settle for being the understudy for Kyle Busch in the Nationwide Series race in Montreal.
As Busch attempted to pull off one of the more difficult double-duty stunts in NASCAR – a Saturday Nationwide race in Montreal, followed by a Sunday Sprint Cup start – he left the task of qualifying at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the capable hands of Kelly, who did his part by placing the #54 car fifth in the qualifications.
Kelly then prepared for the race as if he were competing in it himself, while he awaited Busch’s arrival via plane from Michigan, where he had been taking part in pre-race functions at Michigan International Speedway.
Though Kelly may have been secretly hoping that Busch would somehow be delayed and unable to jump into the cockpit of the #54 by the time the green flag flew, he was instead forced to participate in the race partly as an advisor to Busch and primarily as a spectator.
He watched as Busch navigated their car from the back of the field – NASCAR rules state that when a driver change occurs between qualifying and the race, the car must start at the back – towards the front, before finally finishing in 10th place.
It marks the second year in a row that Kelly’s only official participation in NASCAR events was limited to a qualifying ride – having done the same favour for his boyhood friend Ambrose at Montreal in 2011.
It likely isn’t the NASCAR experience that Kelly was hoping to craft for himself, after getting his first – and thus far only – Nationwide start in 2010 at Road America in Wisconsin. Despite a more-than-respectable fifth place finish in that race, Kelly has yet to be rewarded with another opportunity.
Kelly, 35, has been racing professionally since 1998, when he joined the Formula Ford tour, and is just happy to be a part of the NASCAR world, but he can’t help but feel a bit jealous of Ambrose, who he used to race go-karts against when the two were growing up in Tasmania.
“I’d like to be doing what he’s doing,” Kelly recently admitted.
That Kelly has struggled to catch a break in the sport shows how remarkable the rise of Ambrose, from fringe participant – he started out scrambling to get a seat in one or two truck races a year – to a week-in-week-out contender at the sport’s highest level, has been.
“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… it’s pretty phenomenal,” Kelly said.
“He’s got himself in a Cup car and he’s really part of this thing now… I’m proud of what he has done.”