For a while last week in NASCAR it looked like the Pocono wall that collected Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 golden ride may have placed a big dent in a mounting point lead.
Not so fast.
Johnson’s cape got soiled a bit in Pocono, but Chad Knaus and team dusted it off and the No. 48 gained two more points after a long comeback drive. They were ready to move on.
Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania and Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York are not distant in miles, but the triangle and the road course are like two different worlds.
Johnson and team have adapted well to road courses, but then they’ve adapted to almost everything in 2013 and continue to build a point buffer that won’t be overcome by other teams before the Chase begins.
Sadly, Tony Stewart won’t be able to heal that double break to his right leg in time to make the Chase. Stewart is tough and he’ll be back. Maybe even the mighty Smoke could benefit via advice and support from Brad Keselowski, Tony Kanaan and John Force about overcoming injuries.
Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis have shown that the No. 5 team is one to be watched. Even after a lot of bad luck, they have shown winning ways. They carry this week’s hot momentum in WGI along with Kahne’s acquired prowess on road courses.
The point leaders seem to be frozen in place by Johnson’s resiliency and consistent finishes, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems to be close every week. He and his team yearn for a win almost as much as his fans do.
It will be interesting to see how Matt Kenseth with four wins and Kyle Busch with 2 wins so far will perform once the Chase lineup is reset.
For now, all NSCS drivers are shifting thoughts from ovals to road course strategy.
Johnson was conscious about WGI road course.
“I have knocked on the door a little bit and I’ve been a top-five, top-three guy there,” Johnson said. “I just have never been the heat there. I’ve never been the dominant car.”
Clint Bowyer expressed confidence in his crew chief and car.
“I used to hate going to Watkins Glen,” Bowyer said. “But with the team I’m with now, I love going there. Pattie is so good at race strategy and calling races. He builds a fast car.”
Carl Edwards maintains his position among the leaders even as Johnson dominates.
“I feel good about Watkins Glen,” Edwards said. “We sat on the pole there a few years ago, won the Nationwide race last year and had good runs and almost won the Cup race a couple years ago. I like that race track and the area.”
Kevin Harvick may be moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing next year, but he and his team are contenders this year.
“The road-course races have been pretty exciting over the past couple of years,” Harvick said “It’s this type of racing that has really become a part of our sport and helps keep things exciting to watch.”
Earnhardt and his legions of fans yearn for the next checkered flag.
“At Watkins Glen, we’ve got long straightaways and then a 90-degree corner, then a straightaway and another corner,” Earnhardt said. “Sometimes you can do well enough to make up for your mistake and still put down a good time. It is fast there.”
Many fans believe Kahne will be the top contender in the Chase.
“We've been right there on the edge with kind of the way our summer went so it was nice to get two wins,” Kahne said. “It gives us much more hope going in. We'll just start a lot closer.”
Jeff Gordon and his team could make the Chase without a win, especially now that Stewart is out of the running, but even one win could solidify their chances.
“We used to head into road course events feeling confident we would gain points and have a shot at the win,” Gordon said. “With the competition so much stronger, it's a battle just to get a top 10 now.”
NASCAR drivers may be more accustomed to turning left every lap, but turning right as well has become a part of their skill package.
“The Glen” will be their proving grounds.
Fans without seats or view of The Cheez-It 355 at WGI in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Aug. 11 can tune in the twisting action at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.