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Watkins Glen Nationwide & Sprint Cup Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, August 05, 2010

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Last year's winner Tony Stewart
NASCAR's elite from their Sprint Cup Series will be in New York this weekend for their annual visit to the historic Watkins Glen International Raceway for Sunday's running of the Helluva Good Sour Cream Dips At the Glen.

(I'd love to hear one of those NASCAR television personalities say that line really fast three times).

For the second time this year drivers will be turning left and right on a challenging road course that is expected to produce some exciting moments and likely another exciting finish that we have been treated to many times this season. Somewhere in between those two points don't be too surprised if you see a few episodes of good old fashioned road rage.

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THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Throughout NASCAR's weekend at the Glen you will be hearing the traditional story lines regarding the presence of road course ringers. These are the drivers that were brought in by Sprint Cup team owners just for this race because of their exceptional skills at road racing. These drivers will bear watching Sunday because the list of the ringers has some really impressive names.

That list includes P J Jones, the son of racing legend Parnelli Jones, who will be driving a second team Toyota, #07, for Robby Gordon Motorsports. Patrick Carpentier will be taking over the wheel of the #26 Latitude 43 Motorsports Ford for owner Bill Jenkins. Ron Fellows, who has tasted NASCAR success at their road course events in the past, will be driving the #36 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Sports car racing expert Andy Lally will be driving the #71 TRG Chevrolet this Sunday. But the one ringer combination that will likely garner a lot of attention is Boris Said in the #83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing. What we have here is a high quality road racer in a high quality ride.

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It's inevitable that you will hear quite a bit regarding driver win less streaks. It's practically become a tradition among members of the NASCAR media, (for example: look at what I'm doing right now).

According to the NASCAR resources experts, who crunch numbers better than anyone I've ever seen, there are eight Sprint Cup drivers who won a race during the 2009 season but are still looking for that first win this year.

That list includes Tony Stewart whose last win was at the Kansas race in September. The records indicate that Kasey Kahne hasn't won since the Atlanta race last fall. Then there's the amazing stat that tells us Matt Kenseth hasn't found victory lane since the 2009 Daytona 500. Equally amazing is four time champion Jeff Gordon whose last win came in April 2009 at Texas. A lot of observers also do not get the fact that Mark Martin hasn't seen a checkered flag since last September when he won at New Hampshire. Others on the win less streak list include Brad Keselowski whose one and only Cup win came at the spring race at Talladega last year. Joey "the best thing since sliced bread" Logano's last win was at New Hampshire last June. Finally there's Brian Vickers whose last Cup win came this time last year at Michigan. But he gets a pass on this issue. Sadly, as we all know, Vickers is out for the remainder of the season due to treatments for blood clots.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if someone, sitting behind a desk on television, actually reminded us that Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing and Ford hasn't won a race in the last seven days.

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The annual silly season rumors will also warrant a lot of commentary this weekend as well with quite a bit of the speculation centered around Richard Petty Motorsports, (RPM). By the time you read this there should have been a Friday morning press conference hosted by RPM, announcing that A J Allmendinger has signed a contract extension to remain in their #43 Ford.

That's the good news.

The bad new is there are reports of another RPM departure involving driver Paul Menard who is heavily rumored to be moving over to Richard Childress Racing as their fourth team next year. Making the sting a little more painful is the fact the driver's sponsor, his family owned Menards Home Improvement Stores, will be leaving with him.

There are also huge question marks regarding the driver status of RPM's #19 Ford. Elliot Sadler has already gone on record saying he doesn't expect to be back in that ride next year and he's been talking to other team owners. But no one's exactly which teams he's referring to.

Then there's the matter of RPM's flagship car: the #9 Ford. We already know Kasey Kahne is leaving that team to join Hendrick Motorsports. We're just sure exactly what Kahne will be driving next year before he takes over the #5 Chevrolet for HMS in 2012.

Driver Marcos Ambrose, who will be vacating his #47 ride owned by JTG Daugherty Racing this year, is reported to be very close to signing a contract with RPM to take over their #9 ride. But some surprising comments made by Ambrose on Thursday indicates that this contract is not necessarily signed, sealed and delivered. He really raised a few eyebrows when he said he has not ruled out the possibility of returning to his native Australia to resume his former successful road racing career.

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The word realignment will again be heard a lot this weekend in reference to NASCAR's proposed changes to the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule. There is already confirmation that Speedway Motor Sports Inc, (SMI), Chairman Bruton Smith has received NASCAR's permission to relocate one of the two dates from the Atlanta Motor Speedway to the SMI owned Kentucky Motor Speedway.

There is also rampant rumors that says the Auto Club Speedway, located in Fontana-California, will be sending their February date to the Kansas Speedway. The rumor mill further states that the speedway's October "Chase" date will be moved to March to create an October "Chase" date at the Chicagoland Speedway.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas base World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has Australian road racing ace Marcos Ambrose on top of their list this week and are backing that claim with 7 to 2 odds. Ambrose has won the last two NASCAR Nationwide Series races at the Glen but has had problems closing the road racing deal at the Cup level. He'll be looking for redemption for losing a sure fire win at the Infineon Raceway's road course event last June when he stalled the car, while going up hill, in an effort to conserve fuel. That incident is still being referred to as "the blunder from down under."

A rock solid wager is Tony Stewart at 4 to 1 odds. "Smoke" has a series high five wins at Watkins Glen. Another solid bet from the WSE is Jeff Gordon who is a four time race winner. Gordon turned 39 years old last Wednesday and would love to give himself a belated birthday present by winning Sunday's race for the fifth time.

At 8 to 1 you will find the duo of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson. All by himself at 9 to 1 is Kyle Busch a former race winner. Also in his own separate category, at 12 to 1, is Kevin Harvick who is another former winner at Watkins Glen.

Looking at the middle section of the WSE rankings this week there's a trio of drivers at 20 to 1 that includes Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and former winner Robby Gordon. At 25 to 1 is a very tempting wager for those of you who don't mind the risk of a long shot bet. That would be road course ringer Boris Said driving the #83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing. Also in this group are drivers Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne.

At the lower end of the rankings this week you will find Carl Edwards at 30 to 1 while Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin are listed at 40 to 1 odds. Martin is another tempting long shot bet and it's a little surprising that he's at the bottom of the list. He has some amazing stats at Watkins Glen including three wins.

Now for the weekly disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races.

But if your going to do it anyway, and many of you will, then be bold and drop a Benjamin on Mark Martin and a back up safe bet Benjamin on Tony Stewart. If the bets pay off you can use some of the money to buy your wife something pretty and nice before you tell her where the extra money came from. If the bets don't pay off then, well, it won't be the first time you gave her a good reason to get mad at you.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips At the Glen is 90 laps/220.5 miles around Watkins Glen's 2.5 mile, 11 turn, road course known as "the soul of American road racing".

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths.

Ten of the entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams do not have a guaranteed starting berth because they are currently outside of the top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to earn a starting berth in the race based on their qualifying speeds.

When it comes to NASCAR's in house road course ringers that title applies to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Between NASCAR's two annual road course events, at Infineon and Watkins Glen, Gordon has nine wins while Stewart has seven.

However, Stewart leads the Watkins Glen stats with five wins to Gordon's four. Stewart is also the defending race champion and he holds the track record for most laps led by a race winner, 83, set back in 2005.

There has been 27 NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Watkins Glen that has sent 16 different winners to victory lane. Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's win stats with 15.

NASCAR icon Mark Martin owns the personal stats at Watkins Glen. In addition to being a three time race winner, Martin also has a series high 12 top five finishes along with 16 top tens. He's also tied, with Dale Earnhardt Sr, for the most poles at three.

Track position is always important during a NASCAR Sprint Cup event but it's especially crucial on a road course. That fact elevates the importance of qualifying. Jeff Gordon holds the track qualifying record, 124.580 MPH, set back in August of 2003.

Weather should not be any problem during the NASCAR weekend at the Glen. Saturday's forecast calls for sunny skies and daytime highs around 76 degrees. The forecast for Sunday race day calls for partly cloudy conditions with highs of 84 degrees.

The track has very little banking, six to ten degrees, in the turns. The front stretch measures 2,141 feet, the back stretch is 1,839 feet long. There is presently seating for 41,000 fans plus hillside area viewing.

Watkins Glen just recently completed some important safety renovations in turns 10 and 11 as well as the area known as the carousel. The old school tire barriers has been replaced with concrete walls with the energy absorbing SAFER barriers attached to them. Also, the gravel pits, formerly located between the edge of the track and the tire barriers has been removed and covered by asphalt.

The Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips At The Glen will be broadcast live by ESPN with their "Countdown" show beginning at 12 pm eastern time. Race re airs will be on Monday, 230 am et, on ESPN2 and on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.

NATIONWIDE PREVIEW

The NASCAR Nationwide Series will make their annual visit to the New York based Watkins Glen International Raceway for a full Saturday afternoon of left and right turns during the Zippo 200. As always, this legendary race track challenges a driver's mental focus, physical durability and sometimes this road course will tax a driver's patience to the point of road rage.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Last January there was a general sigh of relief among Nationwide Series competitors when they learned that Kyle Busch would not be running the entire series schedule this year which also meant he would not be defending his 2009 championship. The intent behind the decision, made by Joe Gibbs Racing, was to free up some of their driver's double duty schedules so he could spend more time concentrating on the Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship.

But that doesn't mean that Kyle Busch hasn't made his presence felt in the Nationwide Series this year. The series is now 21 races into the 2010 schedule and Busch ranks third in the championship standings despite the fact that he's missed four of the events. His accomplishments so far this year has been simply awesome. In 17 starts Busch has won nine of them. That calculates to winning 52 percent of his starts. Busch has also won the last two series events in a row at Indiana's O'Reilly Raceway Park and at the Iowa Speedway. He's also managed to compile 13 top five finishes, 14 top ten finishes and has won two poles.

Busch's performance in the Nationwide Series this season has also placed Joe Gibbs Racing on top of the owner's points championship standings. Their #18 Toyota team holds a 34 point lead over Jodi Geschickter who is the owner of record for Brad Keselowski's #22 Dodge.

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So, who's ready to take on Kyle Busch this Saturday at Watkins Glen? The likely answer to that question could turn out to be NASCAR's favorite Australian Marcos Ambrose who has won the Watkins Glen Nationwide Series race the last two consecutive years. Ambrose will be driving the #47 Toyota for JTG Daugherty Racing.

During the waning laps of last year's event Ambrose made a race winning move on Kyle Busch that he called "the dive bomb." Busch later referred to that move as "a cheap shot." Keep an eye on these two drivers. If they get near each other at the end of the race it could turn out to be rather interesting.

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Saturday's race will be loaded with special guest talent with many of them being road racing ringers.

JR Motorsports will be providing cars for two Canadian drivers during the Zippo 200. Road racing veteran Ron Fellows will be in their #88 Chevrolet. The Toronto driver has four NASCAR Nationwide Series win with three of them being at Watkins Glen. Ontario native J R Fitzpatrick will be behind the wheel of the team's #7 Chevrolet. The young driver has two Nationwide Series starts this year topped by a seventh place finish at the series' Road America event.

Roush Fenway Racing will be placing 23 year old driver Billy Johnson in their #6 Ford on Saturday. Johnson drives for Jack Roush in the Grand American Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series. It fact it was the road racing tandem of Johnson and Jack Roush Jr who gave Jack Roush Sr his 400th victory earlier this year at the Homestead Miami Speedway.

Baker Curb Racing has placed 25 year old Nelson Piquet Jr behind the wheel of their #27 Ford for Saturday's race. The Brazilian driver, and son of a road racing legend, has been trying to make the transition into NASCAR this year. The Zippo 200 will be Piquet's Nationwide Series debut. However he does have four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and has already created quite an impression with three top ten finishes.

Former Formula One and Indy 500 champion Jaques Villeneuve will also be a special guest in Saturday's race. The Montreal native will be driving the #32 Toyota for Braun Racing.

Finally, there's the matter of who said? Boris Said ! The loyal legion of fans known as the "Said heads" will be hoping that their favorite driver finds his way to the Watkins Glen victory lane Saturday. The road racing veteran will be driving the #09 Ford for RAB Racing.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Zippo 200 is 82 laps/200.9 miles around the Watkins Glen massive 2.45 mile, seven turn, road course.

The race has 43 entries. That means all teams entered will have a starting berth in the race.

The Zippo 200 will be aired live by ESPN beginning with the pre race show at 130 pm eastern time.

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