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NASCAR rolls into Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN—“Racing, Only Twisted.” That’s one description of this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, “Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen,” and the event is one of just two road courses in the 36-race season.
Unlike the bulk of NASCAR’s Cup Series schedule, racing at Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway—the other road course on the circuit—requires drivers who normally run on oval-shaped tracks (left turns only) to negotiate both right- and left-hand turns, as well as changes in elevation throughout the course.
At a length of 2.45 miles, a lap around Watkins Glen in a Cup car is also longer than most oval tracks, though the race itself tops out at 90 laps or 220.5 miles.
NASCAR first raced at the Glen in 1957, but didn’t make the track a regular feature on the Cup schedule until 1986, for a total of 26 races now in the books.
Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart lead all drivers in victories at Watkins Glen with four a piece. The two NASCAR veterans are deep in the hunt for this year’s Sprint Cup Series Championship, with Stewart leading the points and Gordon currently in third. Gordon won four of five races here from 1997-2001, while Stewart found Victory Lane four of six times between 2002-2007.
“The keys for success there is that it’s a fast road course and you’ve got to get up through the esses really well,” said Gordon about winning at the Glen. “You’ve got to get through the carousel good and you’ve got to get into all the braking zones good. It’s the same concept it’s always been. For me, it’s if I get out in front, don’t wheel-hop getting into Turn 1 and spin out with two or three laps to go... Fuel mileage is also real important on those road courses, but it’s a little bit different approach at Watkins Glen than at Sonoma. Sonoma is such a finesse track that you can give up a lot of power there and still maintain a pretty decent pace to get your fuel mileage, where at Watkins Glen you can’t. You’ve got to run hard —you’ve got long straightaways —you’ve got to have the power. So, it makes it a lot trickier to get good fuel mileage.”
While Stewart and Gordon are likely contenders for the win Sunday, fans shouldn’t overlook Cup veteran Mark Martin, who won three straight races here from 1993-1995. At age 50, Martin has won four races in 2009—more than any other Cup driver this season, including Gordon, Stewart, and reigning three-time Series Champion Jimmie Johnson.
Kyle Busch, currently 13th in Cup point standings, led 52 of 90 laps here last year to win in only his fourth Watkins Glen start. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the only other double-digit lap leader at WGI in 2008, but it’s safe to say that neither Busch nor Earnhardt Jr. is on the same winning pace this season as last.
Other single race winners at Watkins Glen include Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick.
Tony Stewart has the best average finish among drivers with more than one Cup start at the Glen, a 5.7 in 10 races.
Marcos Ambrose, who transitioned to NASCAR after winning two Australian V8 Supercar championships, ran third last year in his only Cup race at WGI. Though Ambrose has yet to win at NASCAR’s highest level, he won the Nationwide Series race here last season.
One of the unique features of road course racing in NASCAR is the use of so-called “aces” or “ringers”—road racing specialists who substitute for Cup drivers that lack experience on these types of tracks.
Though the final entry list for Sunday’s Cup race is not yet available, road course aces like Boris Said and Ron Fellows are possible entrants. In addition, three-time Grand Am Rolex Series Champion Andy Lally will be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut at Watkins Glen International in a second TRG Motorsports car.
But Lally’s entry, as well as others not currently in the top 35 in owner points, will have to qualify into the race on time or not make the field. “In qualifying, I just want to make the race and secure a spot in the field,” Lally said. “In the race, I think a realistic goal is a top-20 finish.”
An ongoing issue for the Cup series this season has been bad weather, with rain forcing the cancellation of qualifying five times in 21 races. In that case, the field lines up by owner points and the “go-or-go-home” teams do not get a chance to time into the race.
Gates open at WGI for the first day, Thursday, at 6 a.m. for campers and the ticket office opens at 8 a.m. A series of practices will be held; the first is at noon and the last is from 6 to 7 p.m. The race Friday will be the Crown Royal 200 (82 laps) starting at 6:30 p.m. It is expected to last about two hours. Practice and qualifying will be held earlier in the day.
The Zippo 200 (82 laps) race will be Saturday, at 3 p.m. The final race of the weekend will be the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen (90 laps), starting at 2 p.m., Sunday. The weekend will also feature the Red Cat Concert with Telluride and Megan Linville, Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
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In celebration of NASCAR coming to Watkins Glen, “Thunder in the Glen” will be held Friday, Aug. 7 from 4 to 9 p.m. along Franklin Street. The event has free parking and admission. This year’s event will feature live entertainment by “Ragged Sole” from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Community Bank. A classic car show will take place at Specchio Ford and Subway will host a unique show car. At 8 p.m. there will be a drawing at Specchio Ford for a chance to win tickets to Sunday’s race. To be entered into the drawing, a Thunder Prize Card can be purchased at several downtown businesses, including The Shop and the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce Office. The event will also feature the U.S. Army’s climbing wall and race simulator (located at Third and Franklin Street), and Mr. Twister and a Blues Clue’s inflatable character.
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