NASCAR Driver Capsules, Aug. 6
Updated On: Aug 06 2014 02:18:35 PM CDT
Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in first place for the eighth consecutive week after Pocono and for 14 of the last 15 weeks. Gordon leads second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points and third-ranked Brad Keselowski by 70 points (was 51 points ahead of Keselowski prior to Pocono).
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 21 career starts, 4 wins, 6 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Finished 36th in this race last year and was 21st in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon has struggled since his last win at Watkins Glen in 2001, with just two top 10 finishes in his last 12 starts there. He'll definitely be looking to improve upon that record Sunday: "While Sonoma is a finesse track, Watkins Glen is a track where you have to be aggressive and attack. It's a very challenging track, but it's fun and it's fast. Double-file restarts ... (have) really changed things on the road courses because it gives you that extra opportunity to be aggressive, to get the position and to take some extra chances to try to get that position or maintain a position - and that causes a lot of incidents. But that has also made the road course events some of the most exciting races we have on the circuit."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon had hoped to make it two wins in a row after his triumph at Indianapolis, but fell short at Pocono. Even though he led a race-high 63 laps there Sunday, he fell back in the closing laps due to bad pit strategy, ultimately finishing sixth.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 95.7 percent (1,813) of the 1,894 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 10.2 and average finish is 15.8. He has three DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in second place for the fourth consecutive week after Sunday's win at Pocono. Earnhardt trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 17 points and is 43 points ahead (was 27 points ahead prior to Pocono) of third-ranked Brad Keselowski.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 14 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2003. Finished 30th in this race last year and was 28th in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Watkins Glen is arguably Earnhardt's worst track on the Sprint Cup schedule. His last top 10 there was 2005. He hopes to change that this Sunday: "I definitely have more confidence going into the Glen then I do Sonoma. Sonoma is a much more technical track and a lot more challenging for me as a driver. When we run the Glen, it's straightaway then turn, straightaway then turn. I think I can be more of an asset to (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and help him with the car more so then I can at Sonoma. I'm looking forward to it. I'm not going to get too overly confident. We are just going to go there with no pressure and have fun and try to get a great finish."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt led just 14 laps en route to his third win of the season Sunday and his second of 2014 at Pocono.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.2 percent (1,165) of the 1,264 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 18.0, and average finish is 23.2. He has two DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski remained in third place for the third consecutive week. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 70 points (was 51 behind before Pocono), is 43 points behind second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads fourth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 19 points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Four career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Finished second in this race last year and was also second in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After three consecutive runner-up finishes at Watkins Glen, Keselowski is seeking that elusive first win on the twisting road course. To give himself the best chance, he's also running Saturday's Nationwide Series race. "This No. 22 Discount Tire Ford team has hit its stride, and we are in that sweet spot where solid preparation and effort equals strong results. Running these Nationwide Series races is important to me for a lot of reasons, one of those being the extra seat time at the track gives me more insight into how things are likely to play out in the Cup race. On top of that, I know how hard this team works to give me competitive cars and that drives me to give my best for them. ... I feel great about our chances this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski did not have a good outing at Pocono, where he finished second in June. This past Sunday, he ended up one lap down to the leaders, eventually finishing 23rd.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a perfect 100 percent (362) of the 362 total laps contested in four career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 14.0 and his average finish is an outstanding 6.5. He has zero DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth remained in fourth place for the third consecutive week after Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 89 points (was 56 points behind prior to Pocono), is 19 points behind third-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads fifth-ranked Ryan Newman by 26.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 14 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in 2003 and 2012. Finished 23rd in this race last year and was eighth in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth readily admits he's not a good road course racer. But like others who could also make that statement, he hopes to turn his misfortune into good fortune this Sunday.
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth was one of 13 drivers involved in the big wreck on Lap 116 at Pocono this past Sunday. His car was heavily damaged, ending his day early and resulting in a disappointing 38th place finish. "I just was following (Denny) Hamlin on that restart and he kind of went to the middle so I stayed at the bottom and got behind Brian (Vickers) and my spotter told me I was clear high so I just went up to go up off the corner and when I got up there I saw the 11 car (Denny Hamlin) sideways and the 55 (Brian Vickers) went to miss him and we just got all collected."
ETC.: Even with his disappointing overall record, Kenseth still has managed to complete an outstanding 99.9 percent (1,263) of the 1,264 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 18.7 and average finish is 15.6. He has zero DNFs there.
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After two weeks in seventh place, Ryan Newman moved up two spots to fifth in the standings after Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 115 points, is 26 points behind fourth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads the sixth-ranked tie of Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson by nine points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in his first career Cup start there in 2002. Finished 14th in this race last year and was 11th in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman has never come close to equaling his first race at Watkins Glen, where he finished second. Still looking for his first win of the season, which would all but assure he makes the Chase, Newman has a big task ahead of him this Sunday: "Watkins Glen is so much faster than Sonoma Raceway. I think Pocono was a nice warm up to this race because of the fact that we had to shift. It couldn't have fallen at a better place on the schedule when it comes to preparing for this race. The speed is the biggest difference when comparing Watkins Glen to Sonoma. It also provides for a few more places to pass on the track, and that's always a good thing for us."
LOOKING BACK: Newman had a decent run at Pocono. While he didn't lead any laps, he did come home with an eighth place showing.
ETC.: Even with his mediocre overall performance there, Newman has completed a near-perfect 99.9 percent (1,083) of the 1,084 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 10.0 and average finish is 15.7. He has zero DNFs there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano made the biggest climb upward of any driver in the top 10 after Pocono, improving three positions from ninth to a tie for sixth with Jimmie Johnson. Both drivers trail points leader Jeff Gordon by 124 points, are nine points behind fifth-ranked Ryan Newman and lead eighth-ranked Carl Edwards by 15 points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fifth in 2011. Finished seventh in this race last year and was 32nd in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is looking for his first career road course win, but he'll have some tough competition, including fellow Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski. Here's Logano's thoughts on Sunday's race: "We have been a top-10 car at a majority of the tracks this season, we just didn't have the finishes to show for it. At Indy, we were a top-10 car and that is where we finished. At Pocono, I feel like we were probably the third best car and that is where we finished. We are finishing where we are running. ... The team puts in a lot of hard work to give me fast race cars, and we work hard during the race, so it's frustrating when you don't finish where you think you should. It lifts the guys' spirits on the team when you finish like you feel you should."
LOOKING BACK: Logano led 30 laps but couldn't hold off eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. or runner-up Kevin Harvick at Pocono this past Sunday, ultimately settling for a third-place showing.
ETC.: Logano has completed 95.4 percent (431 laps) of the 452 laps contested in 5 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 17.8 and average finish is 18.6. He has zero DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After two weeks in fifth place, Jimmie Johnson dropped one position and into a tie for sixth with Joey Logano. Both drivers trail points leader Jeff Gordon by 124 points (Johnson was 89 points behind Gordon prior to Pocono), are nine points behind fifth-ranked Ryan Newman and lead eighth-ranked Carl Edwards by 15 points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Third in 2007 and 2012. Finished eighth in this race last year and third in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Watkins Glen is one of the few tracks Johnson has yet to win a race at. He hopes to change that this Sunday: "Watkins Glen is one of the four tracks I've not won a race at in my career. It's a great race, lots of strategy plays out, and it would be nice to check that one off the list this year. I like going there, the area is beautiful and we usually enjoy a good group bike ride on Saturday after the garage closes. After last weekend at Pocono, we need a good solid finish."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson had one of his worst showings of the 2014 season, finishing 39th this past Sunday at Pocono due to a wreck on Lap 111.
ETC.: Johnson has completed just 93.8 percent (1,017) of 1,084 total laps in 12 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is an outstanding 7.2 and his average finish is 12.8. He has one DNF there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping two places following Indianapolis, Carl Edwards remained in eighth place for the second consecutive week. He trails series leader Jeff Gordon by 139 points (was 114 behind prior to Pocono), is 15 points behind the sixth-place tie of Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson, and leads ninth-ranked Clint Bowyer by one point.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, four top-5, six top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Third in 2009. Finished fourth in this race last year, and was 14th in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards would love to give himself an early 35th birthday present (he's born on August 15th) in the 10th start of his Sprint Cup career at Watkins Glen. "This is a race that I've been looking forward to all year," Edwards said. "I love road racing and coming off the win at Sonoma we feel like this is a great opportunity for our team to go get some bonus points and have a little more fun before the Chase starts. The Nationwide win at the Glen was huge for me a couple years ago and we've been real close there in the Cup Series."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a race he likely would rather forget about, finishing 29th, three laps off the lead lap, this past Sunday at Pocono.
ETC.: Edwards has completed a perfect 100 percent (814) of 814 total laps contested in nine career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 12.9 and average finish is an excellent 8.8. He has zero DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After two weeks in 10th place, Clint Bowyer moved up one spot to ninth place following Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 140 points (the same as prior to Pocono), is one point behind eighth-ranked Carl Edwards and leads 10th-ranked Kyle Busch by six points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2012. Finished sixth in this race last year and was a career-best fourth in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is still looking for his first win of 2014 and his first career win at Watkins Glen (to go along with his one win at the other road course, Sonoma). Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I don't know that I'm that great (on road courses), but I do enjoy them. Sonoma is a little better for me than Watkins Glen but we've had some decent finishes the past few years. I'm not really sure why. You've really got to have everything go right on the road courses. You can't make dumb mistakes, dive bomb someone and crash, take yourself out of the race. I think we can get a good finish, we just have to have everything go right and not do something that takes us out of the running for a good finish."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had an excellent run Sunday at Pocono. While he didn't lead any laps, he was in the top 10 for most of the day and finished strong with a fourth-place showing.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed a near-perfect 99.9 percent (721 laps) of the 722 total laps contested in eight career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is 17.2 and average finish is 14.4. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing two spots, from eighth to sixth, after Indianapolis, Kyle Busch lost the most ground among drivers in the top 10 after Pocono, falling four places in the standings, from sixth to 10th place. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 146 points, is six points behind ninth-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads 11th-ranked Kevin Harvick by three points.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 9 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in 2008 and 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was seventh in the 2012 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch has become an outstanding road course racer at Watkins Glen, finishing in the top 10 in all but one of his nine starts there (his first effort, in 2005, he finished 33rd). He seeks his third win there this Sunday: "I love Watkins Glen. I enjoy the road courses - both of them - but more so Watkins Glen. I just have a better feel for that place, whatever it is that allows me to do so well there, and so I'm excited about getting to Watkins Glen and hopefully being able to get that monkey off our back in that Nationwide Series there and bring home a trophy. I've not won at that place in Nationwide, yet. And, to carry on our Cup success there that we've had over the last few years and sweep the weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had one of his worst showings of the season at Pocono, suffering engine failure and retiring after just 23 laps, ultimately finishing 42nd out of 43 drivers.
ETC.: Busch has completed a perfect 100 percent (814 laps) of the 814 total laps contested in nine career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is an outstanding 7.1 and his average finish is an equally outstanding 8.1. He has zero DNFs there.
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only three points out of the top 10. Has clinched a spot in the Chase with his two victories so far in 2014.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: One win and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick feels one of the keys to running well at Watkins Glen is "to get your car good under braking so you can make passes during the race. Usually where you can gain the most time is in the braking zones," adds Harvick. "As the race goes on turn one becomes more of an issue because it's downhill and the brakes start to get worn out. The wheel hop becomes easier to start happening as the race goes on."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick kept the pressure on during the final three laps of the race, but he was unable to get by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and ended up second at Pocono. "This hasn't been one of my best tracks, but I just have to thank all my guys on this Mobil 1 Chevy for putting us in position to at least pull some strategy there," said Harvick. "I made a lot of mistakes (including speeding on pit road) today and they made up for it with a fast race car."
ETC.: Harvick believes the team's performance at Pocono "was very important" in the team's quest for the Sprint Cup championship. "I think last week was the kind of the same way," added Harvick. "I think that it's just trying to get yourself ready for the last 10 weeks, to know that you're not going to win every race, you're going to have days like today 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. On those days like today, being able to scramble and get a good finish to get something out of a day. Today we were able to accomplish that and hopefully this a good sign of things to come."
42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 16 points out of the top 10. Would make the Chase if the Chase for the Championship began this week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will make his Sprint Cup debut.
LOOKING AHEAD: Larson said, "I'm looking forward to racing back on a road course this weekend. Even though I haven't done a lot of road course racing I really like racing on those courses. Our Target Chevy was good at Sonoma, which isn't too similar to Watkins Glen, but I think we should have another competitive Chevy this weekend." Larson will also compete in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday at the Glen. "That will help a lot for the Cup race," adds Larson.
LOOKING BACK: After winning his first Sprint Cup pole position, Larson had high hopes for Sunday. But he never led a lap and ended the afternoon in 11th place. "Not the finish we were hoping for today," said Larson. "We had pretty good speed today, but struggled at times down the long straightaways. We fell back early in the race, and it was hard to pass out there to get positions back. We did a good job of racing towards the front, but the late cautions didn't help out. If the race had stayed green there at the end, we would have had a much better finish I think. Still a good points day, so that's a plus. We'll keep working hard the next several weeks for a win and a spot in the Chase."
ETC.: In winning the pole at Pocono, Larson became the first graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative to accomplish that feat at the sanctioning body's highest level. Of Japanese-American heritage, Larson previously became the first D4D competitor to win a NASCAR Touring Series championship, the K&N Pro Series East title in his first year competing under the D4D banner - 2012. Larson won the Rookie of the Year Award a year later in the Nationwide Series and leads the Rookie of the Year standings in the Sprint Cup Series this year. Larson has one win in the Truck Series and two in the Nationwide Series. His best finish in the Cup series is a second at Auto Club Speedway in March.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 21 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. Would make the Chase if the Chase for the Championship began this week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "Road racing presents a tough set of scenarios. You have to be careful with the gear box, the braking and staying on the race track. So those are three challenges of road racing to start with. I like Watkins Glen and I've been fairly successful there, even won in the trucks and had some good finishes (in Cup). I like that track and I'm looking forward to this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Excellent pit strategy vaulted Biffle into the lead with 25 laps to go. And he led the next 11 laps before getting passed by eventual winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Biffle ended the day in fifth spot after running outside the top 18 for most of the afternoon. "We had a 20th-place car and got track position and drove our butt off," said Biffle. "We did everything we could. We had a good strategy there and we might have been able to sneak one (a win) out. If that second caution wouldn't have come out for Kurt (Busch hitting the wall), we might have had a prayer to try and steal one, but, overall, it was a great day for this 3M team."
ETC.: Biffle said, "I think it's pretty obvious for all of us that this has been one of our tougher seasons for our whole organization. It seemed like we were really far behind, or we were up until this point, and we really shed some light on where our whole organization was when we did a Michigan test prior to Indy, and found what I'm gonna call a tremendous amount of speed in our race cars. This season felt like it's been three years, the first six months, how hard we've worked trying to close the gap, but it feels like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. I feel like we're in a much, much better situation going into these next five races than we have been so far."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, only one point out of a spot in the Chase.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Best finish in 10 starts is 13th which he accomplished a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said he likes Watkins Glen "a lot. I really like racing there. It's been difficult for me. I enjoy trying to figure it out, and there are times in that race where we are pretty fast. Watkins Glen is a tough track, and we've had a little trouble there in the past. Hopefully, I'll be able to turn everything around this weekend because we're close to making the Chase."
LOOKING BACK: For much of the race, it looked as if the pit strategy employed by crew chief Kenny Francis would result in a top-three finish for Kahne. But three caution flags in the final 43 laps eliminated those hopes. Instead, Kahne had to be content with a 10th-place finish at Pocono. "I felt like throughout three-quarters of the race we had a ton of speed," said Kahne. "I was happy with my Farmers Insurance Chevy. We struggled at the end on the different restarts. I would get a good one and then a not-so-good one on the next. We still had a decent car though, and I'm happy about that."
ETC.: Kahne knows this is a crucial weekend in his bid to make the Chase. "After that come Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond - all those tracks we have won at and ran really well at. I look forward to each one of them and I feel like we can definitely still make the Chase (with a win at one of those tracks). We just need to get through this weekend without any problems."
3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, only two points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost two spots last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Best finish in two Nationwide Series starts was 12th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon admits, "Road courses have never been my strong suit. But I am actually really looking forward to going to Watkins Glen after our team's performance at Sonoma in June. Sonoma was fun. It made me realize that road course racing can be fun and it got me excited for Watkins Glen. The race to the Chase is on, so my whole team is going into the race motivated to perform."
LOOKING BACK: Dillon seemed headed for a top-10 finish when he got moved out of the groove on the final restart with three laps remaining. He ended up 15th. "This finish definitely does not show how good our American Ethanol Chevrolet was today, so I'm a bit disappointed," said Dillon. "We just got used up on the final restart. There were some guys with newer tires behind us. We're going to keep digging to make it into the Chase. I'm proud of this RCR team. They deserved a better finish."
ETC.: Dillon ended Toyota's 12-race winning streak in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series by driving his Chevrolet to a win Saturday at Pocono. "Anytime you can get a NASCAR win, it's huge," said Dillon. "I watched my brother (Ty) at Indianapolis get a win last week (in the Nationwide Series) and that really rejuvenated me I feel like. I attribute some of what Ty did last week to running well this week. I'm jacked up and wanting to get a Cup win now."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 28 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost one spot last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Best finish in 10 starts is 12th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard feels it is "really hard to pass" at Watkins Glen. "Obviously the harder it is to pass the more track position means, so you try to get all you can on the restarts. At a place like Watkins Glen, there are better passing opportunities than somewhere like Sonoma (the other road course on the schedule). It has really high speeds and the setup is a lot different than you would run at Sonoma, which all makes for an interesting weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Menard's hopes for a spot in the Chase were damaged Sunday at Pocono when he was involved in a 13-car accident with 43 laps to go. "We had a good Certain Teed/Menards Chevrolet and Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) made a good call to get us on a different pit strategy," said Menard. "This is not how we wanted to end our day for sure, but I'm proud of the work the guys did to get the car back out there." Menard ended up 33rd.
ETC.: Menard realizes that time is running out in his bid to earn a spot in the Chase. And he feels Watkins Glen this weekend is a real wild card in the chase to make the Chase. But he also believes "you see more wrecks and things like that at Sonoma, whereas at Watkins Glen, you can get by a guy if you're faster than him. The points just add up and the more competitive the Sprint Cup Series gets, the more each weekend matters."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 49 points out of a spot in the Chase. Gained two spots last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Two wins and five top-three finishes in six races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose knows this weekend is his best bet to win a race this year and qualify for the Chase. "Obviously, I'm very comfortable at a road course, and I just love Watkins Glen," said Ambrose. "I love the area, the track and going to victory lane there. I know what I need at this track as far as the setup of the car, the feel of the car, and it's something I can communicate back to Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief). I don't need to a lot of direction and can really tell the guys what adjustments to make so we have a good car on Sunday. We just always feel like we're capable of being up front and competing for the win."
LOOKING BACK: After struggling during the first half of the race, Ambrose rallied in the final 50 laps to finish 14th. "If you had asked me at the start of the day would I take a top-15 finish, I would have said yes," said Ambrose. "But it was just a little frustrating there at the end. We had some issues (the car got stuck in third gear and Ambrose was forced to pit during the final caution for repairs), and we let a few spots go. But we'll keep digging and keep working on it."
ETC.: Ambrose realizes that pit strategy is always a main ingredient in determining which team wins a road course race. "Even if you have the best car, which does help, nothing is handed to you," said Ambrose. "You need the best strategy, good pit stops and have everything fall in place. It takes a whole team, more than just the driver to win."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 51 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost one spot last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers has run well at Sonoma since joining Michael Waltrip Racing, but things have not gone as well at the other road course - Watkins Glen. But Vickers hopes this is the year that "we show how good our MWR cars can be at the Glen, too. We need a good run after Pocono. We need to get back on the right track. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Vickers' hopes of making the Chase were all but wiped out when he was involved in a 13-car accident at Pocono. "It's tough because everyone on this Aaron's Dream Machine team just did an awesome job today," said Vickers. "We had a really good car. Just really fast and handled great through the corner. I thought we had a shot at a great finish." Instead, Vickers ended up 37th.
ETC.: After the first race at Pocono, Vickers was in good shape in his bid to make the Chase. But after the second race at Pocono, his chances of being part of the Chase for the Championship are not very good. "Our luck the last few weeks has not been very good," said Vickers. "We've had good cars, but like on Sunday, things just don't go our way. Hopefully all of our bad luck is behind us and we can put together five good finishes in these next five weeks. We've got some tracks in that run where we feel we can win a race at."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 53 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost one spot last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Five wins (a track record) and 10 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said, "We've had a lot of success there. When you've won five races, it gives you confidence that you know how to win (there), and know what you have to do to get to victory lane. I know what I feel I need when we get there. It's just a matter of going out and practicing and putting yourself in that position."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart's hopes of earning a spot in the Chase took a real hit Sunday at Pocono when he was involved in the 13-car accident with 43 laps remaining. Stewart came to a stop with his rear wheels on top of Paul Menard's hood. "It wasn't where we wanted to end up by any means," said Stewart after his 36th-place finish. "I tend to end up on Paul a lot," added a laughing Stewart. "Car wise our cars tend to end up on top of each other for some reason. I think this is the second time I've landed on top of him. This time at least we weren't looking windshield in at each other."
ETC.: The wreck at Pocono has left Stewart with little hope of making the Chase based on his spot in the point standings. Making up 53 points in five races is possible, but not probable. So that means he must win one of those five remaining races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins. His best bet for a win may be this weekend at Watkins Glen since has more wins there than anyone.
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 54 points out of a spot in the Chase.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "Comparing the two road courses that we race at, Watkins Glen is so much faster than Sonoma. I don't think there are any guarantees that we will be good at Watkins Glen just because we were good at Sonoma. The biggest difference between the two tracks is that Watkins Glen is much faster and you can really hustle the car, rather than just having to finesse things. Pit strategy will usually play a big part of the race at the Glen."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished seventh at Pocono for his sixth top-10 finish of the season. "This was a really solid race weekend for our team," said McMurray. "Keith (Rodden, crew chief) called a really good race on the pit box. We were on a different pit strategy than a lot of teams, but we put ourselves in position for a top-10 finish. I'm really proud of all the guys on this Bad Boy Buggies team for the effort this weekend. We need to try and keep this momentum going these last few weeks leading into the Chase."
ETC.: Car owner Chip Ganassi will receive the inaugural Cameron R. Argetsinger Award for outstanding contributions to motorsports on Thursday at the International Motor Racing awards dinner. NASCAR President Mike Helton and McMurray will be among the individuals speaking during the award ceremony. Ganassi's teams have won 17 championships in his 24 years of ownership. He recently was named one of the "50 most influential people in the auto industry" by Complex Magazine.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st. Will make the Chase as a result of his Talladega win.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: All four of Hamlin's top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen came in his first four starts at the road course. His luck in recent years has been "all bad. But hopefully we will turn things around this weekend," said Hamlin. "Kyle (Busch, his teammate) has been real good at the Glen. So we know the JGR cars can run up front. We just need our luck to turn around at that place."
LOOKING BACK: Despite getting sideways to trigger a 13-car accident, Hamlin was able to rally in the final 20 laps to finish ninth at Pocono. It was the first race for interim crew chief Mike Wheeler as Darien Grubb begins his six-race suspension for the rules violation discovered after the Indianapolis race. "He (Wheeler) did a really good job," said Hamlin. "Good communication and we were on the same strategy as far as what I was thinking and what he was thinking, so that was good. Really pretty seamless for the most part."
ETC.: When asked to describe that happened that got him sideways on lap 117 at Pocono to trigger the multi-car wreck, Hamlin replied, "I was in the middle lane and I got stuck three-wide. Just the guys getting runs and guys that can accelerate much faster than what we can and so that put me three-wide in the middle. The 15 (Clint Bowyer) was right on my door and it sucked me around and I was just hanging on at that point and I think it was mayhem from everyone checking up from behind. Like I said, I just got sucked around."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd. Will make the Chase as a result of his Daytona win in July.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Best finish in three starts is 18th.
LOOKING AHEAD: While Almirola is not noted as being a road racing expert, he feels "I got a lot better at the Watkins Glen test last week. I've never been that great at road courses, but out of the two road courses we race, I've always run a lot better at Watkins Glen than Sonoma. I had a really good test up there. I got to look at some of my data and Marcos' (Ambrose, his teammate) data and learned some things. I'm excited about going to Watkins Glen."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola got caught up in the 13-car accident with 43 laps to go, and as a result, he finished 35th at Pocono. "Honestly, I don't know what happened there," said Almirola. "I saw smoke and I saw one car make a hard right into the fence and I knew that they were wrecking. I just tried to aim for the middle and hope for the best. I was behind (Brad) Keselowski and there were cars inside of us, so I couldn't turn left. I was on the brakes as hard as I could, and I got creamed from behind and pushed into the wreck."
ETC.: Thanks to the Petty Family Foundation and car owner Richard Petty, 98-year-old Henry Jakes of Murfreesboro, Tn., fulfilled one of his bucket list - spend a day with Petty. After arriving at the Petty Museum, Jakes lobbied Petty and the staff to be the "official greeter" for the day. Jakes was given a tour of the museum where Petty told stories about the various cars he won in during his illustrious career. The day ended with dinner with Petty. "We just sort of talked and showed him everything we had here," said Petty. "He smiled the entire time."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd. Will make the Chase because of his Martinsville win.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Finished ninth a year ago for his fifth top-10 finish in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is another driver who believes the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen is like night and day. "Sonoma is a track where the corners are a lot slower and you're struggling to put the power down. It's pretty much the opposite of that situation when racing at Watkins Glen. It's still a road course, but the differences are pretty big. Watkins Glen has wide, sweeping, fast corners where it's not as tough to put the power down like it is at Sonoma. It's (the Glen) also just more of a momentum race track."
LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Daniel Knost elected to put Busch on a different pit cycle than many of his competitors and it resulted in Busch leading three times for 30 laps. But Busch's victory aspirations were damaged when the caution came out with 43 laps to go for a 13-car accident. Still, he was in running for a top-10 finish when a flat tire sent him into the wall with only seven laps remaining. As a result, Busch ended up 13th. "The crew did a good job repairing the damage and keeping me on the lead lap," said a dejected Busch. "So we were able to salvage a top-15 finish, but we were headed for a much better day if things had gone right for us. Just not our day."
ETC.: Busch had two wins and a third-place finish in three Nationwide Series starts at Watkins Glen. Busch hopes to carry that success over to Sunday this weekend. "The balance I've found in the Nationwide car is a dominant type of balance," said Busch. "But, I've struggled a little with the Sprint Cup car trying to do two things - one is getting the car to cut the corners the same way, and the other is the fuel mileage game that always comes into play with the Cup car. I've never really been able to gamble on the Cup races. This time around, with us virtually locked into the Chase, we will be on the positive side of gambling on fuel."
13 CASEY MEARS, Chevrolet
Team: Germain Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 103 points out of a spot in the Chase. Gained two spots last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 10 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Mears feels "Watkins Glen is another chance for us to do well. Last year, we had a brake issue in qualifying and had to start 30th, but we were able to race our way to the front and finish 12th. We are looking forward to getting to Watkins Glen on Friday."
LOOKING BACK: After running in and out of the top 10 for much of the afternoon, Mears ended the day in 12th place. "We had a solid day and everyone on the Geico team did a nice job and Bootie (Barker, crew chief) made some good calls that put us in position to have a strong finish," said Mears. "After two bad races, this is exactly the type of finish we needed. We were strong all day and it felt good to run up front and be competitive."
ETC.: Mears began the week by testing at Atlanta. "That just shows the commitment on the part of Germain Racing and everyone involved," said Mears. "Everyone is determined to get better. Everyone is determined to run up front on a regular basis. We had a strong run at Pocono, and we hope to have another one this weekend."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 113 points out of a spot in the Chase. Lost two spots last week.
WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will be seeking his fourth straight top-10 finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger agrees "Watkins Glen is just a fast road course. Most of the corners are high speed. It's a fun course because of that. At Watkins Glen, it's important to get a good overall balance. If you are a little tight, you are not going to get through the esses very well and through the high speed stuff very well. If you are loose, you are going to cook the rear tires. You are constantly looking to find rear grip to not burn the rear tires off it."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger's hopes of a top-15 finish ended on lap 117 when he was involved in a 13-car accident. Allmendinger ended the day in 34th place. "We were having a decent day," said Allmendinger. "We were far better than we were in the first Pocono race and at Indianapolis last week. We had good speed. There was no way you could miss it (the multi-car wreck). I saw it happen and there was just nowhere to go."
ETC.: Crew chief Brian Burns leaves little doubt that he believes this could be the weekend his team heads to victory lane for the first time. "Obviously, with our driver we have focused on the two road courses," said Burns. "We had a car that could have won Sonoma. After our Watkins Glen test, we feel better about this track and we have made a lot of gains. We were fortunate to test with some really competitive teams and it was nice to walk away having the best car there. We have high expectations. We know if we do everything right, the cautions fall our way and we have no bad luck we have the car to beat. That's a good feeling going into the weekend."
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