The spread between the top four NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the points lead is a mere eight points. With 13 different drivers having wins in 2012 going into race No. 22 at Watkins Glen this race weekend, points and wins have become gold. Only five races remain before the points are reset for the 10-race playoff.
Considering that Dale Earnhardt Jr. retained the points lead after a transmission swap during Pocono and Matt Kenseth clung to second after a front-row crash, the value of points in the stingy NSCS race reward formula is obvious.
Eager teams take on the challenging 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen International, the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen, Aug. 12 at noon ET. Fans without tickets can watch drivers struggle through the twisting track on ESPN.
Two NASCAR drivers with a considerable open-wheel past, Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose, have won at Watkins Glen and are always a threat to take advantage of their special experience.
Among other current NSCS drivers, only Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Robby Gordon have won at the Glen, and only Busch will be making right turns this Sunday
Teams tend to substitute drivers on NASCAR’s two road course tracks although that has yet to produce victories.
Boris Said, Patrick Long, Michael McDowell, Scott Speed, Casey Mears and Sam Hornish Jr. have substantial road course experience and will be at the Glen in NSCS. Brian Vickers will take Mark Martin’s seat and Josh Wise and Stephen Leicht will be in the lineup as well. All mentioned have proven road course skills in a variety of ways.
Whether or not the inclusion of these nine specialists will limit or enhance the chances for some to get needed points or a cherished win it will require the green flag, 90 laps or 335 kilometers, and then a checkered flag.
It is certain that Jeff Gordon hopes to excel Sunday and add to the previous eight-race momentum where the No. 24 team has advanced one or two spots every week and secured a much-needed win as well.
It’s rare that a NASCAR driver will offer negative comments about an upcoming race or season, but the top five NSCS drivers have reason to be optimistic given their 2012 productivity thus far. Comments from the top five contenders, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. might set the stage for their performance at making left and right turns at the Glen.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. would like nothing more to add to his single 2012 victory.
“With me and a road course, it’s a lottery,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve had some good runs at Watkins Glen and had some fast cars there. It’s just straightaway, turn, straightaway, turn, and that’s really what I’ve been doing all my life. It’s a lot easier than Sonoma, a lot less technical. We showed up at the Road Atlanta test last week with the same problems as Sonoma and the same disappointment with the car. Then we made a lot of changes and a few of the changes in particular revolutionized the way the car drove and the way it felt. The stop watch was way faster so I’m excited. I particularly don’t look forward to going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen as much as I do the ovals, but I’m excited about Watkins Glen this trip. Hopefully we can go there and be competitive.”
Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Ford)
Matt Kenseth often seems like a quiet competitor, but behind the wheel his actions make swift statements.
“I think probably for me the most important part to your lap time at Watkins Glen is getting through the ‘esses’ the fastest,” Kenseth said. “The more throttle you can use going up the hill and through the esses, the less you have to lift. It seems like that really adds a lot, or takes a lot away from your lap time, because that back stretch is long. All the turns are important and unique at Watkins Glen. When it comes to racing, I think the last turn is very important to get off that and into Turn one so that you don’t get passed there. The esses are always important leading up to the ‘bus stop’ because that is another passing zone. The more cushion you can get through the esses and the top of the hill, the less likely you are to get passed.”
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Greg Biffle could become a rare breed of champion if he adds a Sprint Cup championship to his Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series crowns.
“I like road course racing,” Biffle said. “It breaks up the season a little. We’ve had a couple of top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen and I think it’s reasonable to shoot for a top-10 finish this weekend. There are a few drivers in this series who have a lot of road course experience and if I can just hold my own with them and get out of there with a top-10 or top-five finish, I think that would be a reasonable expectation.”
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
It’s hard to say enough about the fiber and skills of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, but his candid comments give up some clues to his success.
“The thing that gets me at The Glen so much is really fuel mileage,” Johnson said. “My driving style requires us to stop usually an additional time and I don’t know how to run a fast enough pace and save fuel at the same time there. It really gets me. So, I’m hopeful that the EFI and the functionality of the EFI will help me there.”
Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 Toyota)
Martin Truex Jr. has a reserved personality until questioned by media. This quiet guy has maintained a top position among the leaders without winning or shouting. It’s suspected he’ll get more vocal if he snares a win.
"I'm looking forward to Watkins Glen,” Truex said. “I've had a lot of great runs there and great finishes. We were in the mix for the lead with a few laps to go last year. I always enjoy running up there. That's one of my tracks I grew up going to and consider it special. I love to road race and especially at Watkins Glen. I am really looking forward to it."
One element this race weekend is certain. A common statement about NASCAR racing—go fast, turn left—won’t work at Watkins Glen.
For race details go to www.theglen.com.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.