Speedway Digest Staff
Follow us on Twitter @SpeedwayDigest
Jeff Gordon was quick to cite another reason for Ambrose’s prowess at road racing.
"What makes him so good, not to mention his road racing experience over the years, is his aggressiveness," Gordon said. "He’s just so aggressive. While I think sometimes that holds him back on the ovals, it pays off big time here. That’s going to be tough to beat."
Gordon also likes Ambrose’s chances of a three-peat at Watkins Glen, a higher-speed venue than Sonoma, the more technical of the two road courses on the Sprint Cup circuit.
"I think it was interesting, because we were at Sonoma and he doesn’t do as well at Sonoma as he does here because this track, it loves aggressiveness," Gordon said. "Sonoma does not like aggressiveness. I think you’re going to see him be extremely fast this weekend. He was fast at Sonoma, but just the fall-off was pretty big there where here that’s not the case.
"I think he’s going to be very, very difficult to beat."
Marcos Ambrose took a giant step toward winning his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The only driver to exceed 128 mph in Saturday’s time trials at the 2.45-mile road course, Ambrose clocked a track-record 68.777 seconds (128.241 mph) to win his first Coors Light pole award at WGI and the third of his Cup career.
Ambrose, who has never finished worse than third in five races at the Glen, posted his record lap despite getting loose in the esses at the high-speed course. Clint Bowyer (127.958 mph) qualified second, followed by his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. (127.462 mph).
AJ Allmendinger, driving the No. 47 Toyota for JTG/Daugherty Racing, grabbed the fourth starting spot at 127.433 mph, with Kyle Busch (127.400 mph) completing a parade of evenly matched Camrys behind Ambrose’s No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
All told, 10 drivers broke the qualifying mark of 127.020 mph set last year by Juan Pablo Montoya, but Ambrose was the clear class of the field after his crew made effective adjustments to his Fusion following a less-than-satisfying second practice session on Friday afternoon.
"It was a great lap--it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the cleanest lap I could have done, but it certainly carried a lot of momentum, and it was enough to get the job done," Ambrose said. "These new Gen-6 race cars are a lot faster around here, and the speeds are record speeds…
"I think this car really suits this race track. I think it’s more comfortable for the drivers to be aggressive… I’m looking forward to the race, and I think we have as good a chance as anybody to win and go three in a row."
Bowyer has become a road-course prodigy of late, winning at Sonoma last year and finishing fourth in his last outing at the Glen.
"These road courses have become something I look forward to--I never thought I’d say that," Bowyer said before confessing that his lap was fraught with tension. "Fear and being scared is a big part of that--just trying not to mess up, man. You’ve got one lap to get it all. Look how many opportunities you have to mess up out there."
Bowyer didn’t make a mistake in the road course qualifying format, which featured eight different groups, ordered from slowest to fastest from speeds in Friday’s first practice. Though drivers had an opportunity to run more than one lap, most opted not to because the fall-off in grip after one lap was so pronounced.
The Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, which have been so dominant in the Cup series recently, had an off day in the time trials. Five-time champion and series leader Jimmie Johnson was the best of the lot in 18th, followed by Kasey Kahne (19th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (25th) and Jeff Gordon (28th).
Subbing for injured Tony Stewart, Max Papis qualified 29th in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet SS. Sixth-place starter Jamie McMurray has the top Chevy on the grid.
Regan Smith didn’t want to sound like an ambulance chaser, and he wanted to make sure reporters understood that any discussion of a possible ride in Tony Stewart’s No. 14 car was purely hypothetical at this point.
But Smith acknowledged that a quality ride like Stewart’s car is an intriguing prospect. After losing his Cup job at Furniture Row Racing to Kurt Busch last year, Smith drove two races in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was sidelined during the 2012 Chase because of a concussion sustained at Talladega.
"It’s a situation where I think any driver would relish that opportunity," Smith said of the prospect of subbing for Stewart. "It’s just unfortunate under the circumstances. I don’t think any of us--and, unfortunately, I had experience with this last year--none of us ever wish to get an opportunity because our competitors have an issue or get injured.
"First and foremost, we’re thinking about Tony and him getting better as soon as he can and his safety and health. But, outside of that, it’s going to be a great opportunity for somebody to hop into a fast race car and get a chance to showcase themselves. I certainly would be open to the possibilities of that."
Even though his JR Motorsports driver is involved in a heated battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered ringing endorsement for Regan Smith as a substitute driver in the No. 14 Sprint Cup car of injured Tony Stewart.
"I’d be the first to put Regan’s name in the hat for that kind of opportunity," Earnhardt said Friday at Watkins Glen International. "I understand that we are racing for a championship and I think that could actually help Regan."
Stewart broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in a sprint car accident Monday night in Iowa. Max Papis is driving the No. 14 Chevrolet SS at the Glen, but beyond that, Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t named a substitute driver or drivers for what is expected to be an extended absence for the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Earnhardt thinks additional seat time in the Cup car might work to Smith’s benefit.
"It would be a challenge, but I think it could help him in some ways and be an advantage to him maybe to have that extra track time and just be able to have some other ideas in his head about what can improve his car," Earnhardt said.
"I would be for that, and it would also give him an opportunity to showcase himself and give himself possibly a chance to get some interest on the Cup side as far as ownership goes and get some guys maybe wanting to put him back in the car full time on this (Cup) side of the deal. That would be good for him."
Logistically, the NASCAR schedule makes it difficult for any driver in the Nationwide Series--particularly those in contention for the championship--to fill in for Stewart next weekend at Michigan. The Nationwide Series races at Mid-Ohio, and the schedules between MIS and the Lexington, Ohio track don’t mesh comfortably.
"The problem we are faced with next week is, if you look at the schedules and you lay out the Nationwide schedule at Mid-Ohio and us in Michigan, they don’t match up very well," said Greg Zipadelli, director of competition at Stewart-Haas. "Somebody would do two half-assed jobs or we can try and find somebody that is out of the norm and put them in the car and try to go to Michigan and do the best we can.
"Then hopefully maybe Bristol we could pick up with one person that may be able to do the rest of it, and obviously it would be a Nationwide driver."
Smith, tied for second in the NNS standings and 14 points out of the lead held by Austin Dillon, would be a logical choice. He’s already a Chevrolet driver, and both Stewart-Haas and Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports have affiliations with Hendrick Motorsports.
Popular race car driver Geoff Bodine was inducted into Legends of The Glen on Friday afternoon. Bodine, a native of Chemung, NY, raced at Watkins Glen International from 1986 through 2000 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The third-generation driver’s accomplishments at Watkins Glen International include three Top-5s and his eventual final win in the series, which came in 1996.
Bodine also competed at Watkins Glen International in NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, as well as the IROC Series, among other touring series during a career that spanned more than four decades.
“Geoff is a big part of our history at The Glen, having run here in several different series – all after a stellar career that commenced at age five in this region,” said Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup. “He’s a spectacular addition to the Legends of the Glen and his induction is one of what should be many highlights during the Cheez-It™ 355 weekend at Watkins Glen International.”
In 2012, the Green Grandstand was renamed the Bodine Grandstand in recognition of contributions to The Glen by Geoff and younger brothers Todd and Brett.
Since 2008, Watkins Glen International has selected drivers from all racing backgrounds to the elite class known as The Legends of The Glen. Last year’s inductees included: Former sports car and Formula 1 great Derek Bell; sportscar legend Scott Pruett; and James Hunt, who was inducted posthumously.
Genny Light recently became a primary sponsor for Swan Racing's No. 30 Toyota driven by David Stremme. Genny Light will sponsor the team for two races, the first of which is this weekend at Watkins Glen International. The second Genny Light sponsored race will take place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
The 74th annual Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., tees off with Monday's fourth annual Kevin Harvick Foundation Pro-Am Presented by Technology Concepts & Design, Inc.
The Aug. 12 Kevin Harvick Foundation Pro-Am once again opens the legendary golf tournament, North Carolina's oldest professional golf event, in an effort to raise funds to benefit underprivileged children. The Wyndham Championship runs Aug. 12-18 at Sedgefield Country Club.
Several of the biggest names on the PGA TOUR, including Chris DiMarco and Jerry Kelly,will join Harvick, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and Kevin Harvick Foundation co-founder, and other amateur golfers on four-person teams for the 9 a.m. Pro-Am tee time. Each member of the winning team receives a trophy and full-size replica Budweiser driver helmets autographed by Harvick. Budweiser sponsors Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Once again, Mark Brazil, his wonderful team at the Wyndham Championship and Bill Johnson of Technology Concepts & Design have gone above and beyond to lend a helping hand for so many children in need," Harvick said. "I have gotten to know several members of the golf community fairly well in recent years, and have been amazed by their generosity and overwhelming support. The Kevin Harvick Foundation couldn't do the work we do without the generosity of groups such as this."
The mission of the Kevin Harvick Foundation, founded in 2010 by Harvick and his wife, DeLana, is to positively enrich the lives of children throughout the United States. The Kevin Harvick Foundation Pro-Am is one of several Foundation events scheduled throughout the year to raise money to support children in need. Remaining on the 2013 Kevin Harvick Foundation calendar is the Nov. 6 Happy's Golf Classic at Bakersfield Country Club in Harvick's hometown of Bakersfield, Calif.