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Race Day: Cup Series Is On The Road Again

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 8 2010

Restarts at Watkins Glen can be rather exciting. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedey | Managing Editor

The line between haves and have-nots in NASCAR road racing has slimmed down over the last decade as more and more drivers have gotten better on the twisties. But thin as it is, that line still exists.

Who will the haves be today in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen Sprint Cup road race at Watkins Glen International?

Here is what some drivers said when asked that question:

Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “Tony (Stewart) has won five of them here in the last seven races. He is definitely one to watch. Jeff Gordon’s name is thrown around a lot. The 48 won at Sonoma and has momentum coming in. The 11 and 18 are both usually good. Those are kind of the guys. You can always throw a road racer in there like Marcos Ambrose. We knew that Marcos was going to be tough when he was faster than Jeff Gordon here at the tire test. There was a handful of guys that I felt would be really tough, and they still are, but I am happy that I am at least as fast as they are.”

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “You can’t count Tony (Stewart) out of a road course race.  Last year’s race here he started off fair, didn’t have anything magical going on and then he came to life and stomped the field.  You can’t count (Stewart) out.  When I look at the raw speed that the 16 (Greg Biffle) has had so far, the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) look good to me as well.  It’s going to be an exciting front group.  I don’t think it’s just going to be a run away.  I think you’ll see a good race.”

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet: “Obviously, Marcos Ambrose is probably the first guy that comes to mind. He’s been so close so many times and not been able to finish one off. He’s always been there every year. Him and Juan (Pablo Montoya) and Robby (Gordon). Those are three guys in particular that it seems like every time we’re here at some point during the day, they’re a factor. It’s been kind of interesting to watch practice and see who’s been at the top of the practice board. It’s a group of guys that you’re not accustomed to normally seeing up there with some of them, but they’re putting good laps together and being able to do it consistent. That group may expand by the end of the weekend.”

Fast facts

What: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen

Where: At Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, noon ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 2.45-mile road course

Turns: Seven

Race distance: 90 laps/220.5 miles

Estimated pit window: 30-32 laps

2009 winner: Tony Stewart

2009 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

Today’s polesitter: Carl Edwards

Changing man

More talk of possible changes to the Chase surfaced at The Glen this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the last four Chases was asked if he thought that NASCAR was changing the Chase because of him.

“Maybe I’m foolish, but I don’t think it has anything to do with me,” Johnson said. “I think it has everything to do with NASCAR trying to create the best product that they can, trying to be in front of the right audiences, the right time of the year for certain race tracks so the stands are full, action-packed tracks for the Chase so our television numbers are up.  I don’t see it has anything to do with me.  We’re ready wherever those 10 races are – we’re ready to race.”

Trivia time

Who was the last Ford driver to win a race at The Glen?

Safety first

Safety conditions at Pocono Raceway were a major concern among drivers before, during and after last Sunday’s race there.

This weekend, drivers arrived at Watkins Glen to find a number of safety improvements were made to the track.

Here is what Greg Biffle had to say about those improvements, which included paved run-off areas:

“Unbelievable. It is amazing to see what they have done around this race track. It is so nice to see a race track respond so quickly to what appeared to be a pretty bad accident last race. They have done a fantastic job with this race track. I think it is going to be a fun race and they have definitely made it a lot safer. I keep saying that it is hard to drive these cars in the grass. It makes it real difficult when it is next to the edge of the race track and you can get off in that area. That is a huge improvement for this race track.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: Five, by Tony Stewart

Most poles: Three, by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Mark Martin

Most top-five finishes: 12, by Mark Martin

Most top-10 finishes: 16, by Mark Martin

Most lead changes: 14 (twice, most recently in 2006)

Most cautions: 10, in 2006

Fewest cautions: 0, in 1965

Most caution laps: 36

Fewest cars running at finish: 11, in 1965

Closest margin of victory: .172 seconds, in 2001

Largest margin of victory: 3.8 seconds, in 1993

Feud to watch

Last weekend, Kurt Busch tossed some pretty tough talk at Jimmie Johnson after Pocono. Johnson had bumped Busch off the track and into a guard rail in the race.

This weekend, Johnson was asked about that bump.

“My move there was with the best of intentions and fortunately with the side drafting and hard racing going on between the 2 (Busch) and the 33 (Clint Bowyer) and the timing of when I got to them and tried to nudge the 2 by, it did what it did.

“I feel terrible for it. Looking at the crash and what the 19 (Elliott Sadler) was caught up in,

Action from Saturday's Nationwide race. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

he got checked up and somebody hit the 19 from behind and put him in the wall.  Man, I am so thankful that he is okay. I’m so thankful that Kurt’s car didn’t get into that same situation on the track over there.

“Luckily he was a couple hundred yards past that spot.  With the past history, to answer your question, I hope that everything goes away.  I have nothing against him and have not tried to run into him to create these problems, we just have and we have to stop doing that.”

Sonoma redux?

The road race at Infineon got pretty rough earlier this year. Lots of bumping and elbowing and wrecking.

Tony Stewart was asked if he thought there would be more of the same today at The Glen.

“I think it’s a little more out of control at Sonoma because we’re running slower speeds,” Stewart said. “It seems like everybody is a little more respectful here because of how fast we’re running.  The restarts will still be action-packed, there’s no doubt about that.  (Turn) one is a big braking zone and it’s wide down there so you get a lot of cars that dive down in there and the same thing going into six.  There’s two areas where guys are going to dive, but the thing about Sonoma where you have corners that are so slow from average speed straightaways where guys get stacked up and guys just go in and just plow themselves in there and that’s something I don’t think you’ll see this weekend.”

Trivia answer

The last Ford driver to win at Watkins Glen was Geoffrey Bodine in 1996.

Up next

Next week, the Cup show heads to Brooklyn, Mich. for the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Brian Vickers won the race a year ago.

The series will be at MIS for the second time this summer. Denny Hamlin won the race there on June 13 and Kasey Kahne was second. Kurt Busch won the pole.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 8 2010
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