NASCAR returns to Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN—If you’ve been waiting for NASCAR to return to the Glen, your wait is almost over.
On-track action begins at The Glen this Thursday, Aug. 9, with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams getting their chance to race the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course during a practice session at noon, immediately followed by NASCAR Nationwide Series practice.
The 82-lap Nationwide race, entitled The Zippo 200 at The Glen, is set for Saturday, Aug. 10 at 2:30 p.m., while the 90-lap Cheez-It 355 is scheduled to go green Sunday, Aug. 11 at 1 p.m. A complete event schedule is available for download at www.theglen.com.
The Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen is an important race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. It’s the 22nd of 36 races in the season, but the first of a five-race subset leading up to NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Each of the five races has the potential to dramatically affect the outcome for drivers vying to make the Chase field.
Five races from now, the top 10 drivers in Cup Series points will earn a Chase berth, along with the two ‘wildcard’ drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most regular season wins.
Following last Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway, won by Kasey Kahne, five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson holds a commanding lead in the Cup Series standings, followed by Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top 5.
But, a bit further down in the standings, a number of drivers are at or near the Chase “bubble,” meaning they could climb into the Chase—or fall out of it —over the course of the next five races.
A mere 27 points currently separates Jeff Gordon, ninth in the standings, from Ryan Newman, 15th, and three drivers in that span – Gordon, reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch are winless after 21 races. Tony Stewart, 11th in points, and Martin Truex Jr. in 14th, currently hold the wildcard spots with one win a piece.
However, NASCAR.com reports Stewart broke both bones in his lower right leg, Monday, Aug. 5, at Southern Iowa Speedway. (Update: Stewart-Haas Racing reports: "Stewart underwent surgery on his right leg early Tuesday morning...as a preliminary procedure to stabilize and clean the Grade 2 injury. A second surgery will be necessary. In the meantime, Stewart will remain hospitalized for observation." It continues, "Stewart’s injury will prevent him from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event Aug. 9-11 at Watkins Glen International. Veteran racer Max Papis will serve as the interim driver for Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen.")
The stakes are big heading into Watkins Glen, not only for the bubble drivers, but for several within the top 10 who haven’t won a race in 2013, including Bowyer, Earnhardt, Jr., and Gordon. Between them, Gordon is the only driver who’s won at The Glen – four times, in fact – though his last win here came in 2001.
This is the first year for Cup Series teams to visit Watkins Glen with its current car configuration, known as Generation 6. At last weekend’s Pocono press conference, Jeff Gordon was asked about the challenges facing drivers at The Glen this year: “This car definitely has a really good amount of downforce in it and drag, which helps you get in the braking zones and is definitely going to make lap times come down at a place like Watkins Glen that is such a fast road course … The faster you go and, especially if you’re getting into braking zones harder, then the harder it is to have an advantage in those braking zones versus your competitors. The more challenges come along with that and, of course, the faster you go, the more on edge that you’re putting the grip of the tires and the car. I look for it to be a pretty exciting race. If it’s tough to pass then that means that the restarts and those double file restarts are going to get wild and crazy, like we’ve seen so much of in the past on the road courses.”
Meanwhile, the last two races at Watkins Glen were won by former two-time Australian V8 Supercars champion Marcos Ambrose, driving the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports —the only two wins of his Sprint Cup career.
Currently 22nd in points, Ambrose is not a threat for the Cup Series championship this year, but a win at his best track would be a meaningful achievement for his team, sponsors, and fans.
Tickets for the weekend’s racing events are available at www.theglen.com. Practice for the weekend’s races start Friday, Aug. 9. The Zippo 200 at The Glen (82 laps, 200.9 miles) begin Saturday, Aug. 10, at 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, the NASCAR race starts at 1 p.m., going for 90 laps and 220.5 miles.
The regular traffic flow will be changed on Sunday for the large influx of vehicles expected for the race. The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department said County Route 16 will become three lanes of one-way traffic going from State Route 414 to Gate 2 of the tack, and two lanes of traffic from Townsend Road to Kuhl Winner Way. There will still be one lane of traffic from Bronson Hill Road to Townsend Road. This will start at approximately 6 a.m. and last until 2 p.m.
Beginning at 9 a.m., Kuhl Winner Way will be a one-way road southbound from County Route 16 to Gate 5, and northbound from Bronson Hill Road to Gate 6.
The sheriff’s department told Sunday drivers to travel west in the traffic to Meads Hill and go north to State Route 329 and into Watkins Glen. Drivers can also go from Meads Hill to Wedgewood Road to State Route 414 and turn right for Corning or left to Watkins Glen or Montour Falls. Persons living between Meads Hill Road and the track are requested to go to Townsend and then take the Watkins-Townsend Road to Watkins Glen.
At approximately 4 p.m. on this Sunday afternoon, there will be only one way traffic on County Route 16 with three lanes coming from the race track towards State Route 414 to the traffic light. At the light, traffic will proceed two lanes down into the village of Watkins Glen. This traffic is expected to last for more than three hours. There will also be one-way traffic, across two lanes, going down Kuhl Winner Way from Gate 6 to State Route 414. There will also be two lanes of traffic going from Gate 5 and 4 on Kuhl Winner Way to County Route 16. All traffic coming off from Kuhl Winner Way will be three lanes and diverted in Townsend to County Route 16, County Route 19 or the Watkins-Townsend Road.