Johnson and Co. Could Use a Good Weekend
Everyone knows the No. 48 Lowe’s team is all about postseason play, right? So, why all the distress over a few bad race weekends?
Maybe its because of the uncharacteristic streak of bad weekends that is coming at this time in the season. We’re accustomed to seeing this team have a mediocre first quarter every few years, but this "slump" comes at a time when the team should be gearing up for postseason play.
Is it a slump, or is it just a series of odd coincidences?
Crew chief Chad Knaus is concerned, but he's not worried, as he told the media last week: "We are not running as well as we need to. I think everybody knows that. We have had some struggles this year. We’ve won a few races, which is great. But on a consistent level, we are not as fast as what we want to be. Quite honestly, I don’t think anybody is."
The Glen just happens to be one of the only remaining tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson does not have a win. Homestead, Kentucky and Chicagoland are the others.
Wild-Card Race Offers Opportunity for Several Drivers
It’s not only the drivers sitting just outside of the Chase (Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose) who need a win this weekend. There are several others to think about.
Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and Jamie McMurray are all considered better-than-average road-course racers and see the Glen as a race where, if the pieces fall into place, they have a chance at winning.
All of these drivers are winless this season, and with the magic number of races left before the Chase begins down to five, this wild-card race offers them an opportunity to make it into the postseason.
Former Glen Winners Can Get Chase-Ready
While there isn’t a road course in the Chase (there should be), a win here by one of the previous Glen winners already in the Chase (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch) would be an ideal warm-up for postseason racing.
"It's about trying to get yourself ready for the last 10 weeks," Harvick began. "To know that, you're not going to win every race, you're going to have days…where you have to scramble, you're going to have practices where your car is off, you're going to have things that are going to go wrong. On the days when things are right, you need to capitalize on them and win the race."
Busch is a two-time winner ('08, '13) at the Glen, as well as a pole winner (2011). His Joe Gibbs Racing team is coming off an untimely exit at Pocono due to engine failure, something not likely to be repeated at the Glen.
Gordon is a four-time Watkins Glen race winner, but the last time he visited Victory Lane here was in 2001. Can a resurgent Gordon bring back some of that youthful magic this weekend and score his third win of 2014?
A Must-Win for Ambrose
Simply put, this weekend is the last chance for Aussie driver Marcos Ambrose to make the Chase. And if the news reports of his departure from full-time racing in the Cup Series are true, this is the last real chance for him to win a Cup race.
Ambrose knows the heat is on, and he tested last week at the Glen in an effort to gain every bit of an advantage as possible.
"Obviously I'm very comfortable at a road course, and I just love Watkins Glen," Ambrose said. "I know what I need at this track, as far as the setup of the car, the feel of the car. I don't need a lot of direction and can really tell the guys what adjustments to make so we have a good car on Sunday.
"This race is still a lot of pit strategy, and a lot of things can happen on the track too. You are never guaranteed a win at this level."
Like we said, this is a must-win, and he knows it.
Lest We Forget: Past Watkins Glen Winner Stewart
Hobbled earlier in the season by his recovery from injuries suffered in a serious sprint-car wreck last summer, three-time Glen winner Tony Stewart admitted that he was up for the physical demands of road racing earlier in the season at Sonoma.
"You’re busy. You just don’t get any chance to rest. You go to a track like Pocono and you spend 90 percent of the lap driving in a straight line and resting. You can actually think about what you’re going to do," Stewart said.
"(On a road course), you really only have probably two or three seconds during the lap that you’re actually not doing something, whether it’s turning or shifting, upshift, downshift; so it gives you plenty to do. It makes it fun because you can’t let your guard down."
Stewart remains winless and outside of the list of 16 drivers who currently will make the Chase. Although he’ll have other opportunities to win, it make sense to put a "W" up on the board and as soon as possible for this team.
Bits and Pieces
Nelson Piquet Jr., son of former Formula One champion Nelson Piquet, will make his Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend driving the No. 77 Ford for car owner Randy Humphrey.
Piquet has three NASCAR national series wins in his career, including one at a road course in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America in 2012...Said Heads Rejoice! Veteran road-course racer Boris Said will be behind the wheel of the No. 32 Ford for car owner Frank Stoddard Jr.