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Monday Race Day: Cup Drivers Set To Do The Twisties

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 15 2011

Jimmie Johnson catches some air during last June's Cup event at Infineon Raceway. That tends to happen on road courses and today's race is at a beauty of a road course. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Just as all oval-shaped tracks are not the same, neither are road courses. In the case of the two road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule, they are not even close.

So say the drives who will be competing in the second of the two road races on the schedule today – the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips race at Watkins Glen International.

Here is what some of those drivers had to say when asked to compare The Glen to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., site of the other road course on the schedule:

Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “Everybody always lumps the two road courses together, but they’re really totally different so I enjoy racing here.  The challenge that comes with it is that it drives a lot different than Sears Point.  It drives more like a big track and is usually a little less crazy than Sears Point (the antiquated name of Infineon, which many drivers still use), a little less bumper cars because there’s a bit more room to move around and pass, so I always look forward to it…Sears Point reminds me of Martinsville and Watkins Glen reminds me of Michigan.  It’s just totally different. It’s a lot faster at Watkins Glen, a lot more momentum and a lot more room to move around and pass.  It’s just a lot different track.”

Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet: “It (Infineon) flows a little more. The corners are a little faster. Eighty percent of Sonoma you are in first

Some pretty big wrecks, like this one at Watkins Glen in last year's NNS race, can occur on road courses. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

or second gear and it is short gears. This place, the esses up here are fast. When you get into the Bus Stop, you are doing, not sure how fast, but probably 180 miles-an-hour when we brake into the Bus Stop, you know what I mean. You are hauling ass in this place and its fun. I think the driver can do more and there is a lot more sliding and things. You can run side-by-side easier here than there. Just personal preference.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (who also drives the road course in Montreal in the Nationwide Series): “If I were to place all the tracks on a scale, if we just talk about braking, right off the bat Montreal is twice as hard on the brakes as any of these other race tracks we go to.  It has long straightaways, stop, right-left, long straightaway, stop, right-left, it’s a very taxing race track on the brakes.  It’s unlike any other track I’ve ever driven on, so that one is different.  Sonoma is very slick, it’s a momentum race track. It’s a finesse race track and this place is somewhere in between. Watkins Glen has some areas, like the esses, where you really have to finesse it through there, but then it has a couple of really hard braking zones that are tough, too.  It’s fun to get to run these road courses.  There’s a lot of driving going on.”

Fast facts

What: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen

Where: Watkins Glen International; Watkins Glen, N.Y.

When: Monday, 10 a.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Radio: MRN-Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 2.45-mile road course

Race distance: 90 laps/220.5 miles

2010 winner: Juan Pablo Montoya

2010 polesitter: Carl Edwards

Today’s polesitter: Kyle Busch

Points standings: 1. Carl Edwards, 720; 2. Jimmie Johnson, 711; 3. Kyle Busch, 709; 4. Kurt Busch, 706; 5. Kevin Harvick, 700; 6. Matt Kenseth, 694; 7. Jeff Gordon, 668; 8. Ryan Newman, 658; 9. Tony Stewart 642, 505; 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 641.

Weather report

Rain and storms postponed Sunday’s race until this morning and while the Sprint Cup cars

The Nationwide Series has run in the rain but not the Cup series. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

potentially can run on wet road courses, they did not.

Modern Cup cars never have run in the rain in a points race and, most likely, never will. Won’t do it even though the series and Goodyear have wet weather tires.

Why?

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet offered his opinion: “I don’t know the answer that that. I can speculate in saying that I think it is all based on the fans. I don’t think we necessarily want to see our fans sit in the rain because not every fan is going to sit in the rain is the ultimate answer. So, the more fans we can keep tied in the grandstands and around the grounds to watch the race, that’s a more ideal situation. It makes it more difficult from what I understand because I’ve done it, to drive, to pass because the visibility is cut down quite a bit. Therefore, for that reason, the fans don’t get to see as much if they do stick around because some are afraid of the rain.”

Trivia time

Who won the very first Cup race at Watkins Glen?

Great history

The Watkins Glen track has a history that extends well beyond NASCAR. The place is a

Tony Stewart appreciates history. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

former home of the United States Formula One Grand Prix, as well as other top racing series.

Among open-wheel winners at the track have been Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Gilles Villeneuve, Rick Mears and Bobby Unser.

Tony Stewart was asked this week if he thinks about the history of the place.

“You know there is a lot of history especially knowing where they started racing at Watkins glen down the road,” Stewart, who has won five times at The Glen, said. “It’s pretty cool. It is neat to go to different areas of the country and go to different race tracks and learn the history and what has made these facilities so great.”

Earncon alert

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won at The Glen. He does have two top-five finishes in 11 starts but those came in 2003 and 2004. His average finish is 23rd. The pressure will be on today as he attempts to cling to his top-10 points position – he is 10th, 23 ahead of Denny Hamlin – and Chase berth.

Conditions for an Earnhardt victory today at The Glen stand at – 2 out of 5.

Tossing the keys

Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports Engineering provides the keys to today’s race at The Glen:

Fuel Economy:  “You can’t ignore fuel economy.  This race has been won the last five years with a specific pit strategy where fuel economy plays a large part.  Teams will run the race

Jimmie Johnson leads a pack of cars up through a turn at The Glen during Saturday's Nationwide race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

backwards – figure out how many laps from the end that they can stop for fuel and make it to the end and continue to subtract a tank of fuel to determine when they need to make their first pit stop.  You’ve got two full fuel runs and one partial fuel run.  Many of the teams will stop when they get to the lap during the first segment where they think that they can make it to the checkered flag on two full fuel loads.

On a road course, you’re better off stopping under green than stopping under caution.  The cautions may fall to help teams, but when you’re planning, you have to plan for fuel economy.  The tires are so good this year that the tires will last through a full (fuel) load.  And even if they fall off as the cars are burning fuel, teams won’t come for tires.  It’s going to be all about fuel.  Teams are running record laps at Watkins Glen this year.  If they’re running record laps, how much fuel are they burning and how does that affect their fuel economy.  It will be interesting to watch.”

Durability:  “People tend to forget about durability.  This is a fast track with lots of RPMs.  Lots of upshifts, lots of downshifts.  Hard braking.  There’s potential for transmission, rear axle and brake troubles.  We’ve got good systems on these race cars now, but you have to remember that being able to use strategy is based upon a driver being able to run the entire 220 miles.  You have to watch the components while remembering fuel economy.”

Trivia answer

Buck Baker won the the first Cup race at The Glen. That was on Aug. 4, 1957. He was driving a Chevy owned by, Buck Baker.

Up next

The Cup series travels to Michigan International Speedway for the second time this season.

In the first race of 2011 at MIS, Denny Hamlin got his one and only victory of the season and Kurt Busch got the pole.

In last year’s second MIS race, Kevin Harvick got the victory.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 15 2011
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