NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Watkins Glen The Glen A Crucial Stop In 'Race To The Chase' Five down, five to go in the "Race to the Chase." And plots continue thickening. Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen could...
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Watkins Glen
The Glen A Crucial Stop In 'Race To The Chase'
Five down, five to go in the "Race to the Chase." And plots continue thickening.
Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen could prove to be the racing equivalent of a blender -- 90 laps on the historic road course at Watkins Glen International.
The 2.45-mile layout in New York's Finger Lakes region is tough to conquer regardless of "Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup" implications.
But consider the stakes: Sunday's winner either boosts his Chase standing, or revels in a career accomplishment.
Road-course wins are premium things -- difficult to snare -- and with only two such events on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule (at The Glen and California's Infineon Raceway), mastering one or both is a point of pride.
Add the Race to the Chase -- the 10-race stretch that finalizes the Chase field -- and a weekend in upstate New York becomes crucial.
Here's what we know after the first five events in the Race to the Chase:
Five different races, five different winners -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) at New Hampshire, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) at Day- tona, David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) at Chicagoland, Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet) at Indianapolis and Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) at Pocono.
Fifty bonus points remain; each win worth an extra 10 points through the season's first 26 races.
Biffle's triumph at Pocono last week -- his first since September 2008 -- not only broke a personal victory drought, but provided a huge Chase seeding boost. Biffle was 11th in the series standings heading to Pocono. He remains there heading to Watkins Glen. But if the Chase started now, he'd be seeded sixth thanks to the 10 bonus points he earned at Pocono.
Reminder: The top 12 drivers following race No. 26 at Richmond qualify for the Chase. They're seeded according to the number of wins they accrued during the season's first 26 races (see chart).
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and two-time series cham- pion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) are winless in 2010 and undoubtedly targeting The Glen. Stewart leads all drivers with five wins there. Gordon has four. Stewart leads all drivers in average starting position (6.82) and finish (5.273). Gordon -- the series' all-time road-course victor (nine wins) -- leads all drivers with 227 laps led at The Glen. Stewart -- second on the all-time road-course list with seven wins -- has the top pre-race Driver Rating at The Glen (135.0)
Gordon is second in the standings. Stewart is eighth.
But The Glen isn't just the Stewart-Gordon Show.
Although the former has won three of the last five Watkins Glen events, including last year, other Chase-eligible drivers have scored within that period, notably Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) in 2008 and Harvick, the current standings leader, in 2006.
Road-Course Cornucopia: Challengers Everywhere At The Glen
We know Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart can drive road courses. So can Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet).
Don't dare overlook the veteran in Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen. He won three consecutive races there from 1993-95, one at Infineon Raceway (1997) and is as re- spected on a road course as at any other track.
And disregard four-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson at your peril; he won his first road-course race in June, at Infineon, and last year's Coors Light Pole at The Glen.
Here, however, are names to note: Boris Said (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) and Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota). Both are outstanding road-racers -- Said as a long- time part-time NASCAR participant -- and Ambrose as part of his multi-disciplined racing background in Australia and his native Tasmania.
Said has one top five and two top 10s in nine starts at The Glen. He's subbing for the No. 83 team's regular driver, Brian Vickers, who's sitting out 2010 for a medical issue.
Ambrose, who made recent news with his decision to leave JTG-Daugherty Racing at season's end, almost got his first series win in June, at Infineon, but stalled his car while lead- ing, late. Now in his second full season, he has two top fives in two series starts at Watkins Glen -- a third last year and the runner-up in 2008.
Other drivers with road-course experience and prowess who are entered in Sunday's He- luva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen:
Robby Gordon (No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Toyota) and teammate P.J. Jones (No. 07 SpeedFactory TV Toyota);
Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota), who finished eighth last year at The Glen; Former open-wheel standout Patrick Carpentier (No. 26 Air Guard Ford);
Former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), whose lone series win thus far came at Infineon, and GRAND-AM Rolex Series regular Andy Lally (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet).
Canadian road-racer Ron Fellows (No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet) has three top fives in 12 series starts at The Glen, plus three NASCAR Nationwide Series wins there.
Another former GRAND-AM competitor, Tony Ave, is entered in the No. 35 Mark- Smith-owned Chevrolet.
Past GRAND-AM champion Scott Pruett, who's leading the Rolex Series standings with co-driver Memo Rojas, will stand by for Jeff Gordon. Gordon's wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, expects the couple's second child this month.
Pruett and Rojas drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in the GRAND-AM sports-car series.
On The Line: Marcos Ambrose And Boris Said
Road-course standouts Marcos Ambrose and Boris Said were the guests on Tuesday's NASCAR Tele- conference. Following are excepts:
Q: How are you training since you'll run all three events for this weekend?
SAID: "I'm definitely getting up earlier just because I've been excited and I've been training a lot harder the last few weeks. Nothing really different. I'm used to running three races before, so it's not going to be that big a deal."
Q: What's your sense, thus far, of the No. 83 team?
SAID: "I think it's going to be one of the best chances I've ever had, and the best cars -- and the fact that I don't have that mental weight on your shoulders of making sure you don't screw up in qualifying. You know, make sure you get in the show, being a go-or-go-homer.
"I'm guaranteed in the show, so I can go there and work on race setup and go for broke and qualify."
Q: What's the state of NASCAR road racing today, aside from the obvious standouts in Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart?
SAID: "I think it's that they have just put the effort in learning how to road race. Once they put the effort in, these guys, in my opinion, are the best racers in the world. It's like, show a duck water, he knows how to swim.
"If you show some of those oval guys a few tricks about road racing, they pick it up pretty quickly and that's what we have seen with Carl Edwards (N0. 99 AFLAC Ford), Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) and Jimmie Johnson.
"Now, I think those guys have caught up to the Tony Stewarts, the Juan Pablos (Montoya) and the Jeff Gordons."
Q: You always seem to be a threat to win at road-course events.
AMBROSE: "We managed to win the last couple of road races at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. We haven't quite got it done in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"We are going to be chasing Tony Stewart and the whole team down there at Watkins Glen. We feel like they are going to be the car to beat, as well as Jeff Gordon. We have to put ourselves in contention and do everything right and hopefully the race will work out in our favor."
Q: How have you rebound from the mistake at Infineon that probably cost you a win?
AMBROSE: "Races come and go, and when you give one up like we did at Sonoma, no matter how it went down, no matter what the circumstances, it's never nice.
"That being said, there's enough pressure to win at Watkins Glen without putting any more on yourself, so I think we are all focused on the job at hand. We can't go back and remember what happened at Sonoma. We've just got to move forward with it and not let it impact our weekend.
"I want to win so badly that sometimes I get in my own way, and I think if I can guard myself from doing that again, it will help us win the race."
Q: You mentioned returning to Australia when you leave your current team. How realistic is that?
AMBROSE: "I would like to stay here in America if I could. I have jumped out of the team that I had fully sponsored and I was contracted to drive for 2011, and right now, I don't have any contract on the table to sign. So there is a risk involved with that. I understand the risks and I am willing to take any outcome from this point and deal with it. But if I could, I would love to stay in NASCAR and finish off what I started."
Payback's a Cinch: Montoya's Luck About To Turn Around
Bad luck has stalked Juan Pablo Montoya for the better part of two months, so say the statistics.
Here is a good way to decipher if a driver is getting the finishes he or she deserves: compare the finish to that driver's Driver Rating rank in that race.
Driver Rating, a statistic which takes into account a multitude of in-race statistics, assigns an accurate number to a driver's performance -- and often takes bad luck into account. For in- stance, if a driver has a strong performance, but gets caught up in a late-race accident, the Driver Rating will remain high.
Montoya's results over the past eight races are a perfect example. Over the last eight races, Montoya's Driver Rating rank has been an aver- age of 8.4. His average finish over those races: 19.5. (See accompanying chart)
The horrid luck was never more prevalent than at Indianapolis, where Montoya finished 32nd, but had a third-best Driver Rating of 119.5.
The season-to-date Driver Rating also sug- gests that Montoya's season is not nearly as bad as it looks. Yes, Montoya sits 21st, and last year at this point he was eighth. But his Driver Rating of 91.0 ranks eighth in the series.
All these statistics suggest a turnaround is imminent. Montoya's numbers have been too strong lately for a breakthrough NOT to happen. Over the last nine races, he has had a Driver Rating of 98.2, an Average Running Position of 9.1, 87 Fastest Laps Run, 139 Laps Led (including at least one lap led in each of the last five races), and a Laps in the Top 15 percent- age of 84.1%.
This coming weekend at the Watkins Glen International road course seems like the perfect time for karma to pay back Montoya.
Montoya owns tremendous numbers in his road course career. In seven career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road course races, he has a win (at Infineon in 2007), two top fives and six top 10s. His Loop Data stats are likewise strong: a Driver Rating of 105.5, an Average Running Po- sition of 10.5, 25 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 82.8% and a Pass Differ- ential (passes minus times passed of plus-107.
Though Montoya's only road course finish outside the top 10 took place at Watkins Glen (2007), his last two finishes at The Glen have been a fourth and a sixth. Last season, he scored a Driver Rating of 109.0, with an Average Running Position of 8.1.
Bubble Update: Martin Back In The Top-12 Mix
Last Sunday's seventh-place finish at Po- cono proved a boon to Mark Martin, who'd rock- eted the opposite way in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for the previous few weeks.
Now 13th as he heads to Watkins Glen, Martin is operating with a more realistic deficit, trailing 12th-place Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/ Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) by 34 points. He had trailed Bowyer by 62 prior to Pocono.
Martin, who's in his second fulltime season with Hendrick Motorsports, after two seasons of part-time competition, is juggling a streaky 2010. A five-time winner in 2009, he has yet to crack Victory Lane, although he has one Coors Light Pole, five top fives and seven top 10s.
Until the Pocono correction, seven consecu- tive finishes outside the top 10 had plunged Mar- tin from 10th to 13th, one spot outside the final Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup-eligible spot.
Now he heads to Watkins Glen, where he could be a threat. Martin won three consecutive races at The Glen (1993-95), all from the pole.
Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) Po- cono misfortune was Martin's gain. Like his team- mate, Earnhardt remains put, in 14th, but lost ground to both Martin and Bowyer with a 27th- place finish.
Earnhardt now trails Martin by 95 points and Bowyer by 129 points. He had trailed Martin by 31 and Bowyer by 93.
Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) is 15th, nine points behind Martin and 138 behind Bowyer.
NSCS Etc.: Watkins Glen International
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 500th national-series start Sunday at Watkins Glen.
All are in NASCAR Sprint Cup and NAS- CAR Nationwide Series competition -- to date, 384 in the former and 115 in the latter. Earnhardt also is a two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion (1998 and '99).
Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) will make his 350th series start Sunday. While Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Toyota) will make his 175 series start.
Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) and Bobby Labonte (No. 09 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet) continue quests for career marks -- Martin for his 50th series pole, Kenseth for his 100th top five and Labonte for his 200th top 10.
Happy Silver Anniversary:
Watkins Glen is celebrating its 25th con- secutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event this weekend.
The late Tim Richmond began the streak with his 1986 victory for Hendrick Motorsports, but the track's stock-car history extends back to the 1950s and '60s.
The Glen's first NASCAR race was 1957, won by NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Buck Baker from the pole. The event featured many drivers who built the sport, including Baker, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund and Lee Petty.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series didn't re- turn again until 1964 and 1965. Billy Wade won the '64 event, and Marvin Panch won in '65.
Said's Triple Shot:
If all goes well, no one will turn more laps at The Glen this weekend than Boris Said.
Friday, he'll co-drive (with Eric Curran) the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette for Marsh Racing in the GRAND-AM Sports Car Series event.
Saturday, he'll drive the No. 09 RAB Racing Ford in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
The Race: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips
at The Glen
The Place: Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course)
The Date: Sunday, Aug. 8
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
Race Distance: 220.5 miles/90 laps
TV: Noon (ET), ESPN
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128, 100.9 FM and 1490 AM WRCE
2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
2009 Winner: Tony Stewart
Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:50 p.m. and 4:10-5:30 p.m.
Saturday -- Qualifying, 11:10 a.m.