Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Watkins Glen

Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader among drivers, Tony Stewart. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR/Getty Images) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader among drivers, Tony Stewart. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR/Getty Images) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

To find the most successful drivers at The Glen, look no farther than two of the top three drivers in the series standings. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) share the lead in victories at the circuit with four apiece.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With a trip to historic Watkins Glen International next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen, plenty of talk will center on the road-course “experts” who annually challenge the NASCAR regulars on the 2.45-mile circuit.

Yet to find the most successful drivers at The Glen, look no farther than two of the top three drivers in the series standings. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) share the lead in victories at the circuit with four apiece.

Gordon won his four races over a five-year span. He won his first of three consecutive triumphs in 1997, and added a victory in 2001. He has six top-five finishes at The Glen, eight top 10s and two poles. He’s led nine of 16 races for 227 laps.

Stewart scored his first Watkins Glen victory in 2002, winning four times in six years (2004-05 and 2007). He has six top fives and eight top 10s, with an average finish of 5.7. Stewart led six of 10 races for 191 laps, and placed second in last year’s race, 2.275 seconds behind Kyle Busch( No. 18 M&M’s Toyota).

In addition to his victories at Watkins Glen, Stewart also won twice at the other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Infineon Raceway, in addition to finishing second there in June following an exciting battle with Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge). Stewart, who has a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup all but locked up, can conceivably clinch this weekend. He needs to have a 781-point lead over 13th-place leaving Watkins Glen to guarantee himself a spot in the Chase. Currently, his lead over 13th-place Kyle Busch is 726 points.

“While both road courses, the two tracks are still pretty different,” Stewart said. “At Watkins Glen, you don’t have to finesse the throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there are the same amount of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you’re able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It’s pretty much a horsepower track.”

Busch Looks to Return To Chase, Take Advantage Of Bonus Points

With three victories in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kyle Busch could be near the top of the standings when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins at New Hampshire. That’s because Chase drivers have their point totals reset to 5,000, and they then get 10 bonus points for each pre-Chase victory – creating Chase “seedings.”

But first, Busch has to make the Chase to the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With five races to go in the “Race To The Chase,” Busch is 13th in the standings, 101 points behind 12th-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford).

In addition, Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota), Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) and David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) are within 20 points of Busch, looking to leap-frog their way into the Chase.

Reutimann knows how tenuous making the Chase can be. He was running in contention in Monday’s event at Pocono Raceway, only to tangle with eventual winner Denny Hamlin and finish 29th, falling from 13th to 16th in the championship.

Busch will be looking to make a charge in the opposite direction this weekend. He was NASCAR’s road warrior in 2008. Prior to his victory at The Glen, he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Infineon Raceway and the NASCAR Nationwide Series event in Mexico City. He started the Watkins Glen race on the pole after qualifying was rained out, and led four times – including the final 26 circuits.

Busch qualified second at Infineon Raceway in June, and managed to lead 10 laps early in the event. He went on to finish 22nd.

Said, Fellows, Lally Lead List of ‘Specialists’

Back in the 1960s, road racing “specialists” annually took advantage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars in their annual visit to the old Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. Dan Gurney won five races at the circuit – including four in a row – while Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt also came home winners.

While Mark Donohue continued that trend in January 1973, that marked the final time that a specialist won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Bobby Allison won the next race at Riverside, followed by Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and David Pearson.

Today, a new generation of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers dominate NASCAR’s road course action. This weekend, at least seven non-regulars will look to turn back the clock and bring home a victory at Watkins Glen.

Ron Fellows, Boris Said, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier, P.J. Jones, Brian Simo and Andy Lally seek to become the first non-regular to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since Donohue.

Fellows has come the closest with three top-four finishes at The Glen, including seconds in 1999 and 2004. The Canadian also has won three NASCAR Nationwide Series races and a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at The Glen.

Lally hopes to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend. He will attempt to qualify the No. 71 TRG Chevrolet, while David Gilliland – the usual driver of that car – will drive the No. 70 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet for team owner Kevin Buckler. Lally tested at both Virginia International Raceway and New Jersey Motorsports Park in preparation for this weekend. In addition, he will have three practice sessions at The Glen on Thursday in the Porsche GT3 he drives for Buckler in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.

The race will be the first NASCAR event at The Glen to utilize double-file restarts. Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who had already placed Turn 1 among his top-five “action-packed turns” in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, feels that turn may be worthy of a No. 1 ranking after this weekend. … “It’s all relative to the new double-file restarts,” Busch said. “We all saw – and experienced – what the double-file restarts did to the racing at Sonoma. It was wild out there. It bit me, but it worked in our favor late in the race.”

Johnson Not Quite ‘Superman’ On Road Courses

“Trying to beat that guy is like trying to beat Superman,” Mark Martin (No. 5 Carquest/Kellogg’s Chevrolet) said after losing to Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) in the recent Brickyard 400. “Look at the results they get. From the sheer number of successes they’ve had to the incredible comebacks that just are almost beyond belief. They certainly rebound consistently better than anybody in the series for several years now.”

But if Johnson is NASCAR’s ‘Superman,” the Kryptonite for the defending three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has been the road courses – where he has yet to win.

"We’ve made a lot of progress at Bristol (Motor Speedway) and at Infineon (Raceway),” Johnson said. “I had a speeding violation and was able to drive up through all the cars and find myself in fourth. So I think we're making great gains. I'm becoming much more aware of what these cars need on road courses. We were very fast at the race last year at The Glen, so I think we have a shot; our best shot yet."

Johnson realizes that California road-course success does not always carry over to the New York Finger Lakes circuit.

"The speed is the first thing that comes to mind,” Johnson said when asked about the difference between the two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. “The speed of Watkins Glen is so much higher. But also the track is so much wider and the corners are low and much more sweeping, which gives you that speed. So they are two totally different approaches."

Sunday will be Johnson’s eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Watkins Glen. He’s scored three top-five finishes and four top 10s, with an average finish of 13.1. He’s also led four races for a total of six laps.

Loop Data: Turnarounds Possible At The Glen

Certainly, 2009 is not the season Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) had hoped for – or expected.

He is 22nd in the points, and has racked up only three top-10 finishes. Last year, he had 19.

This season is a far cry from his past three – all of which resulted in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths.

But lately there have been glimmers. Harvick finished sixth at Indianapolis – his first top 10 in 15 races – and a strong 12th at Pocono.

This weekend, Harvick heads to Watkins Glen International, a track where he won in 2006. In his eight Watkins Glen races, Harvick has five top-10 finishes.

In other words, Harvick can continue his standings climb (he has improved his points position after each of the last four races).

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 98.4 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 11.6 (fourth), five Fastest Laps Run and 285 Laps in the Top 15 (78.7%), which is third-most.

The same exact analysis could be used for Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford). Coming off a strong finish to the 2008 season (he ended the season with three consecutive third-place finishes), McMurray has mostly had a down 2009. Sitting 20th in the points, McMurray has posted three top-10 finishes. A fourth is certainly a strong possibility at Watkins Glen.

McMurray is solid at The Glen, finishing third in 2006. Over the past four races at the upstate New York road course, McMurray has a Driver Rating of 87.8 (13th-best), an Average Running Position of 15.7 (ninth) and 181 Laps in the Top 15 (50%), which is 12th-most.

Also watch for a strong run from Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet), who has finished in the top 15 in the points in each of the last two seasons. Currently, he sits 24th.

But that could certainly improve this weekend. Truex has finished in the top-10 in each of the last two Watkins Glen races, including a fifth-place run last season. In his three-race career at The Glen, Truex has a Driver Rating of 88.3 (12th-best) and an Average Running Position of 14.6 (eighth).

In The Garage: New York Natives In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Regan Smith (Cato) – No. 78 driver
Jason Burdett (Arkport) – No. 24 car chief
Ryan Pemberton (Saratoga) – No. 83 crew chief
Peter Sospenzo (Brooklyn) – No. 13 crew chief
Rich Ohlhorst (Centereach) – No. 13 mechanic
Rory Connellan (Rochester) – No. 33 media relations
Chris Chase (Nichols) – No. 29 shock specialist
Mike Tyska (Clifton Park) – No. 13 shock specialist
Russell Simpson (Medford) – No. 1 tire specialist
Gene Pasquale (Rochester) – No. 88 tire specialist
Anthony Jilson (Waverly) – No. 13 tire specialist
Rich Pickrell (Perth) – No. 88 transporter driver
Mike Hillman (Lockport) – No. 13 general manager
Keith Koppenal (Middletown) – No. 00 catch can man
Ryan Crelin (Chatham) – No. 83 front tire carrier
Craig Curione (Sanborn) – No. 19 front tire carrier
Danny Kincaid (Port Byron) – No. 82 front tire changer
Brian Englehart (Greenfield Center) – No. 29 gas man
Rodney Fetters (Niagara Falls) – No. 16 jack man
Darrell Bechy (Waterville) – No. 13 jack man
Kenny Barber (Hoosick Falls) – No. 18 rear tire carrier
Chris Tompkins (Queens) – No. 26 rear tire changer
Mike Hillman Jr. (Lockport) – No. 13 rear tire changer
Chris Elliot (Williamson) – No. 16 windshield/driver support
James Antonozzi (Rochester) – No. 43 gas runner
Tim Bullins (Holley) – No. 07 scorer
Cate Higgins (Waterford) – No. 31 scorer
Karen Belden (Schenectady) – No. 88 scorer
Melanie Hillman (Lockport) – No. 13 scorer
Rocky Ryan (Smithtown) – No. 31 spotter
Bill O’Dea (Victor) – No. 29 spotter
Peter Visconti (Nassau) – No. 16 pit support
Sean Haggerty (Amenia) – No. 14 pit support
Ryan Gamble (Sanborn) – No. 16 second gas man
Bobby Sada (Long Island) – No. 16 pit support

Stewart: The Glen vs. Infineon:

Tony Stewart is a good person to talk about the difference between the two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. He took his first road-course victory at Infineon Raceway in 2001, and has four victories at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s horsepower and aerodynamics just like it is anywhere else we go,” Stewart said. “It just happens to be in the form of a road course. Sonoma has a lot less grip in the racetrack. You have to really be careful with the throttle there, and that puts more of the race in the driver’s hands. If anything, Sonoma is probably more technical than Watkins Glen because there’s hardly any time where you get a chance to rest. You’re always either shifting or accelerating or braking or turning or doing something. At Watkins Glen, at least on the frontstretch and on the backstretch, there are three straightaways where you get a little bit of time to take a break.

“Watkins Glen seems to be more in the crew’s hands and the engine builder’s hands. Obviously, there’s still a job that I need to do in the race car, but I’m relying on the equipment and the crew a lot more at Watkins Glen.”


Milestones At Watkins Glen: Will we see a lucky 13th?

Denny Hamlin became the 12th different winner in 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, tying the all-time record set in 2008. With 14 races remaining this season, odds are that the record  will fall in 2009. Could it happen this weekend?
Their Roots Are In Road Racing: Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) and Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Little Debbie-Kingsford-Clorox Toyota), both full-time regulars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, both established their racing careers on road courses and should be considered serious threats this weekend.

Both have road-course victories in their NASCAR national series career. Montoya nabbed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Infineon Raceway, in addition to winning in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in Mexico City in 2007. He’s also got plenty of momentum on his side, coming off his strong showing at Indianapolis and second-place finish Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Ambrose won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen last season, and followed it up with a third-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race the following day.
“Double-Duty” Drivers: A host of drivers will be seeing double-duty this weekend, with 15 drivers racing in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup race and Saturday’s Zippo 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series event. NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Kyle Busch will be joined by Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, David Ragan, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Robby Gordon, Paul Menard, Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney and Scott Speed.

In addition, two drivers from Friday’s Crown Royal 200 at The Glen Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race will do double-duty. Andy Lally will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 71 TRG Chevrolet, while Justin Marks will compete in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Looking For A Longshot?: John Andretti has quite a track record of pulling rabbits out of a hat at Watkins Glen. He won the 24-hour Firestone Firehawk race in 1985, becoming the only Touring class driver to win overall in the series which is now the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge. He gave the BMW GTP team its only victory in the 1986 New York 500. He also upset the Rolex Series GT regulars in the 2001 Crown Royal 200, when he co-drove with Kyle Petty.

Up Next: Michigan International Speedway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns next week to Michigan International Speedway for the Carfax 400, the second of two 2009 events there.

The Sunday, Aug. 16 event will be televised by ESPN. The pre-race show starts at 1 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 2 p.m.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) is the defending race champion. Brian Vickers is the defending pole winner. David Pearson leads all drivers with nine victories at Michigan, five more than Mark Martin. Pearson is also the leading pole winner with 10, five more than Jeff Gordon.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Heluva Good! Sour Cheese Dips at The Glen

The Date: Sunday, August 9

The Track: Watkins Glen International; 2.45-mile road course

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

The Distance: 90 laps/220.5 miles

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite (WPGI-FM 100.9/ WRCE-AM 1490 local)

2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 11:45 a.m.-1:20 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.; Saturday—Practice 12-12:45 p.m., 1:20-2:20 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers

   Driver                       Points
 1 Tony Stewart              3,188
 2 Jimmie Johnson          2,991
 3 Jeff Gordon                 2,989
 4 Kurt Busch                 2,751
 5 Denny Hamlin             2,713
 6 Carl Edwards              2,665
 7 Kasey Kahne              2,642
 8 Juan Pablo Montoya    2,631
 9 Ryan Newman             2,627
10 Mark Martin               2,622
11 Matt Kenseth             2,564
12 Greg Biffle                 2,563

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.





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