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Race Day: This Isn’t California

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2009
Watkins Glen International, site of today's Sprint Cup race.  (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Watkins Glen International, site of today's Sprint Cup race. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Heavy rains  in Upstate New York have forced postponement of the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International.

The revised schedule calls for the race to begin at noon (EDT) on Monday.  There is, however, a chance for more rain in the area on Monday.

When the race does resume, it will be time for another Sprint Cup road race.

Well, yes and no. A road race it is, but drivers say that The Glen and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. are different gigs altogether for them.

Here are what selected drivers had to say about The Glen this week:

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford on Infineon vs. Watkins Glen: “I always compare Sonoma to Martinsville, and Watkins Glen to Michigan. It’s just a lot faster of a road course – you’ve got a lot more momentum, a lot more room to work, a little bit more room for error, probably one more passing zone, at least, than there is at Sears Point. I think this track is a lot more friendly for these types of cars, and has the potential to put on a lot better race.”

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Chevrolet: “It’s horsepower and aerodynamics just like it is anywhere else we go. It just happens to be in the form of a road course. Sonoma has a lot less grip in the race track. 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.”

Also unique to Watkins Glen is the chicane with the name – the Bus Stop.

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford on the Bus Stop: “That’s important. A lot of passing can take place there, but you’ve got to be careful getting through there as well. You can get off the track easy. That’s an important part of this race track. A lot of passing takes place there.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the bus stop:  “It is tough and I think with the double-file restarts, that first lap is going to be awfully damn exciting.  You get to the Bus Stop – on the initial start everybody is pretty calm, you don’t want to be out the first lap so give and take takes place.  You get three or four restarts and you lose some spots and the herd just gets agitated.  It’s going to be exciting going through there.  If you can stay on the black top – there’s going to be a lot of pushing a shoving, but if you get on the grass then you’re going to end up in that sand trap on the outside.  If you can stay on the black top then you’re going to be okay.  That’s my goal on those restarts.”

Finally, the track at The Glen is wider than the one at Infineon. That could affect restarts.

Kenseth on restarts at the Glen: “It’ll be crazier, getting into One, because it will be two- and three-wide, and maybe four-wide. And it used to be like that, even with single-file – guys would lay back and be in there two- and three-wide, so you’re certainly going to have to watch a couple of corners until you get to the top of the hill, and hopefully it will be single-file, but there is a lot more room. It is a little more forgiving because they paved all that area instead of having that gravel pit down there, to give a little bit more room for a mistake or somebody gets sideways or what have you. One thing about Sears Point that I noticed is they ran side-by-side for most of the lap, which is weird because you thought, okay, double-file re-starts, as soon as you get to the second or third corner you have to be single-file at a road course, but at Sonoma I saw people still two-wide in the esses. I think you’ll see a lot of that. It’ll be pretty exciting for the first two laps, at least.”

MONDAY’S FAST FACTS

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

The Date: Monday, August 10

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

The Turns: 11

The Banking: Ranging from 6 to 10 degrees

The Frontstretch: 2,141 feet

The Backstretch: 1,839 feet

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

The Distance: 90 laps/220.5 miles

TV: ESPN, Noon, ET

Radio: MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

THE RINGERS

Back in the 1960s, road racing “ringers ” annually took advantage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars in their 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 ringer 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, 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 driver also has won three NASCAR Nationwide Series races and a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at The Glen.

Brian Simo failed to qualify for today’s race.

MILESTONES AT THE GLEN

* 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 then again yesterday. In 2008, he followed up his victory 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.

LOOKING AHEAD

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.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2009
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