Stewart, Gordon take on specialists at Glen
5 August 2009
With a trip to historic Watkins Glen International next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen, plenty of talk will centre on the road-course experts who annually challenge the NASCAR regulars on the 2.45-mile circuit.
Yet, to find the most successful drivers at The Glen, look no further than two of the top three drivers in the series standings, as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon share the lead in victories at the circuit, with four apiece.
Gordon won his four races over a five-year span, with three consecutive triumphs from 1997-99, before adding another victory in 2001. All in all, he has six top five finishes at The Glen, along with two poles, while Stewart has a simialr finishing record, and can count victories four victories in the six years between 2002-07. He placed second in last year's race behind the Joe Gibbs team-mate Kyle Busch.
In addition to his victories at Watkins Glen, Stewart has also won twice at the other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Infineon Raceway, and finished second in California this in June following an exciting battle with Kasey Kahne.
The current points leader, Stewart has a spot in the Chase all but locked up, and can conceivably clinch it this weekend if he extends his current 726-point lead over 13th-place - presently occupied by Busch - to 781 points.
“While both road courses, the two tracks are still pretty different,” Stewart said of Infineon and the Glen, “At Watkins Glen, you don't have to finesse the throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma.
"I think there are the same amount of passing opportunities but, because of the speeds that you're able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It's pretty much a horsepower track.”
Stewart and Gordon will still find themselves up against a list of road course specialists this weekend, all hoping to turn back the clock and bring home a victory at Watkins Glen.
Back in the 1960s, the specialists annually took advantage of the Cup Series regulars on their annual visit to the old Riverside International Raceway, where Dan Gurney won five races – including four in a row – and both Parnelli Jones and AJ Foyt also came up trumps.
When Mark Donohue continued that trend in January 1973, however, it marked the final time that a specialist won in the Cup Series, as Bobby Allison won the next race at Riverside, followed by Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and David Pearson. Now Ron Fellows, Boris Said, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier, PJ Jones, Brian Simo and Andy Lally all seek to become the first non-regular to win since Donohue.
Fellows has come the closest with three top-four finishes at The Glen, including seconds in 1999 and 2004, and the Canadian has three NASCAR Nationwide Series victories and a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins at The Glen to his credit.
With three victories in the 2009 Cup Series to his name, however, Kyle Busch will be looking for a good road course result to help kick-start his season.
Busch could be near the top of the standings when the Chase begins at New Hampshire, but has still to make the top twelve and has only five races to go to transform his 13th place back into a qualifying spot before his early-season victories go to waste. Busch is currently 101 points behind twelfth-placed Greg Biffle, but has Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann all within 20 points of his tally, looking to leap-frog their way into the Chase.
While Reutimann knows how tenuous making the Chase can be - running in contention in Monday's event at Pocono, only to tangle with eventual winner Denny Hamlin and finish 29th, falling from 13th to 16th in the championship - Busch will be looking to make a charge in the opposite direction this weekend.
He was NASCAR's road warrior in 2008, winning both the Cup Series race at Infineon and the Nationwide Series event in Mexico City prior to his victory at The Glen, where he started on the pole after qualifying was rained out, and led four times – including the final 26 circuits.