Its time to make some right turns for the second and final time of the 2011 Sprint Cup Season. As many of you know, Watkins Glen International is my home-track, so this edition of Matty’s Picks will be coming to you straight from The Glen!
I look forward to the race weekend at Watkins Glen for 362 days each year. 2011 will mark my 16th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at WGI. I get the pleasure of seeing it all each year at The Glen, partly due to the fact that my family arrives at the crack of dawn on Wednesday in an effort to set up the monstrosity that we call home for five days every August in the Gate 7 camping area.
21-ish friends, family members, and a few random strangers will call our Gate 7 campsite home this year – including SpeedwayMedia.com Editor, Ed Coombs. I don’t know if it’s the 11 high-speed left and right turns that make up the short course at Watkins Glen International, or if it’s the 2AM nude foot races, the annual Porta-Potty roast, or the extreme downhill cooler races that bring 200,000+ race fans back to The Glen each year.
I must say that I am very excited for this weekend’s on-track racing action, but I really look forward to the unique camping atmosphere that Watkins Glen International has to offer year in and year out.
For those of you not familiar with WGI, it has been considered by many in the racing world to be ‘The Mecca of American Road Racing’. 11 turns (7 rights – 4 lefts) make up the 2.45-mile short course that both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series choose to utilize at The Glen. In sticking with traditional road course layouts, the racing at Watkins Glen International is run in a clockwise pattern (like Infineon), opposite the flow of the traditional counter-clockwise flow of oval races.
One element that is unique only to The Glen is the direction the drivers enter their pit stalls. Because pit road lies outside the track at Infineon, Watkins Glen is the only stop on the circuit where drivers enter their pit stalls from the crew’s left. Preparations for pit stops at WGI start months in advance due to the fact that the entire pit stop is essentially in reverse. This weekend’s stops will not be the fastest stops for crews this season, but efficiency on Pit Road often plays a major factor in the outcome of the race each year at WGI.
Well, I don’t have too much on how my two picks from last week ran at Pocono because quite honestly I fell asleep after the first 10 laps or so. When the rain cleared and the dust settled last Sunday, I improved on my 19th place Winner Pick finish dating back to the first race at Pocono this year.
With the news of both Sprint Cup races at PIR being shortened to 400 miles, 40 percent of my wish for the Tricky Triangle has come true. NASCAR has eliminated 200 of the 1000 miles of racing at Pocono starting in 2012, 40% of the 500 miles I would like to see removed from the schedule. I think one race for the Sprint Cup Series at Pocono is enough to keep most race fans satisfied for a year.
My Dark Horse pick last week at Pocono was Greg Biffle because of his less than impressive average finish of 16.4. From what I saw last week, Biffle never really had the car to beat but lingered around the Top 10 for the majority of the 200 laps last weekend. I was asleep for his penalty for changing lanes before the Start/Finish Line. Biffle would remain on the lead lap but would restart in the 35th position.
Biffle made up ground on the field throughout an 80 lap caution-free stretch following the penalty. Biffle would restart the race in 14th following the rain delay, and would make the call of the day to stay out on the final caution flag on lap 179. The call would put Biffle in 7th for the final 16 lap run, only being passed by his teammate Carl Edwards on much fresher tires in the closing laps. The Biff would eventually bring the 3M/811 Ford Fusion home in 8th, netting me a Top 10 Dark Horse pick.
By now, everyone knows where my Winner Pick finished last week at Pocono. His 3rd place finish has been overshadowed by the racing incident that occurred in the final laps of the Good Sam RV Insurance 500, and the altercation that ensued.
Kurt Busch led the race 4 times last Sunday for a total of 38 laps en route to his 3rd place finish. His (and my) Top 5 was in jeopardy on the final lap last week following his contact with Jimmie Johnson at the exit of the tunnel turn on lap 199. The two came together twice on the final lap, ALMOST ruining a good day for both teams.
Following the race, Johnson didn’t even let Kurt Busch out of his car before giving him an ear full about the incident. Busch had this to say about the contact: “ Hey, he came off the turn and did a jab to my left; I did a jab back to the right. Why can’t we race each other like this and put on show for the fans and not have a problem with it? I don’t know” Needless to say, I don’t think the two will be exchanging Christmas Cards this December, but when the dust settled, I got a Top 5 for a Winner Pick.
Watkins Glen Picks
In the words of Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose was “Screaming Fast” in final practice today at The Glen. Shattering the 70-second mark around the 2.45-mile short course, Ambrose laid down a lap that was over a full second quicker than the previous track record held by Jeff Gordon. His lap time of 69.666 seconds or 126.604MPH was good enough to claim the top of the leader board in Final Practice today.
I don’t know how anyone could bet against this guy at Watkins Glen International. In his 3 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Ambrose has netted two 3rd-place finishes, and a runner-up finish. It is almost destiny for him to bring home the checkered flag, Sunday afternoon (or Monday or Tuesday). He has won the past 3 NASCAR Nationwide Series races here at The Glen, and if it weren’t for the fact that he’s not running the race tomorrow, I would bet the farm on him to sweep the weekend here at WGI.
Ambrose has the car to beat this weekend…he’s going to win.
Dark Horse Pick
Martin Truex Jr. has also flexed his muscles today here at Watkins Glen. He drove his NAPA Auto Parts Toyota to a Top-5 spot in Happy Hour with a lap time of 70.203 seconds, also better than the previous qualifying track record. Both times Truex has started in the Top 20 at WGI, he has come home with a Top-10 finish. If Truex hits his marks tomorrow in qualifying, he has a car good enough to start inside the Top-10.
His record at Watkins Glen is nothing to shake a stick at. He averages a finish of 16.4 at The Glen, and does have a Top-5 here as well. I think Tuex has been knocking on the door all season, and he’s proved Michael Waltrip Racing has given him a car to run towards the front on Sunday.
That wraps it up for today from The Glen. Stay tuned tomorrow for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 recaps.
Until tomorrow…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!