For the third year in a row, Joey Logano will start from the pole in today’s Zippo 200 from Watkins Glen International.
In the first round of qualifying, Kyle Busch was fastest at 123.141 mph. Kyle Larson was second fastest at 123.038 mph. Logano was third fastest at 122.978 mph. Paul Menard was fourth fastest at 122.590 mph. Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five at 122.548 mph. PJ Jones in the sole driver who will not be able to run in the race this afternoon. In the final moments of the opening round, Brandon Jones lost his quickest lap due to impeding the run of Brennan Poole entering in the bus stop.
In the second round of qualifying, Logano posted the pole winning speed of 124.185 mph. Ky. Busch will start second at 124.019 mph Larson will start third at 123.979 mph. Menard will start fourth at 123.327 mph. Keselowski rounded out the top-five at 122.973 mph. Erik Jones, Justin Allgaier. Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, and Kevin Harvick has rounded out the top-five.
The Zippo 200 from Watkins Glen will be broadcasted on NBCSN and Motor Racing Network beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET .
Immediately following the Cheez-it 355 at the Glen in 2015, race winner, Joey Logano began the process of tearing up Watkins Glen International as the track fully repaved its entire 3.4-mile layout.
Nine months later cars hit the track for a two day Goodyear tire test in preparation for NASCAR’s annual visit to the Finger Lakes region.
Drivers included in the two day test were Logano, 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne.
Teams quickly found out that the speeds have increased and there is more grip in the racetrack. Over the past several years the bumps in the race track had become more severe, causing the repave.
“It’s really hard to tell,” Edwards said of how the higher speeds will affect the racing. “You never know how it’s going to work with a new surface and a new tire. The racing here always seems to be really competitive.”
Though there were no times posted, the word was that speeds are approaching the track record set by Jeff Gordon in 2014. On Tuesday, Harvick ran over 300 miles around the new pavement, which is almost 100 miles greater than the race length in August (220 miles).
Often times when tracks get repaved they gain a lot of grip and the tire wear is very low. What makes the road courses exciting is the close racing, but also that tire wear doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“Basically what they did is they took a track that didn’t have a whole bunch of tire wear to start off with and repaved it so you don’t have a bunch of tire wear again,” Logano said of the new surface. “It’s very similar so it’s not going to change the racing a whole bunch.”
1989 was the last time that Watkins Glen completely repaved the layout of the course. $12 million later and increased speeds have the drivers wondering what race conditions will be like because the sole purpose of this test was to find the right tire to bring back in August.
Restarts are often wild at the famed road course, but if the tires don’t wear it makes every position even that much more important. Logano admitted that he isn’t afraid to put it three-wide heading into a narrow Turn One.
With only three “passing zones” at the Glen it makes restarts crucial. Turn One, the “bus stop” and Turn 10 are the primary zones where drivers will make a move on one another. On the other parts of the track it is a little more difficult due to the width of the track.
“If the track gets rubber throughout the weekend it’s going to be very tough to pass,” said Kahne. “It’s up to Goodyear on what tire they can bring to this race that can withstand the heat and load of a full run and not have tire issues. If it does we will pass and if not it will be all about restarts.”
This was one of two tests this season at the 2.45-mile track. On July 26-27, WGI is scheduled to host an organization test for Cup teams, allowing one team per organization to test before the race on August 7.
Some of the other benefits of the new surface is the concrete pit road that was installed. There are also bigger concrete rumble strips in the turns, compared to previous years.
Each year WGI puts on one of the best events of the season, it will be intriguing to see if the new pavement helps or hurts the on-track action.
On Saturday evening, Kevin Ward Jr. passed away during a sprint car race in Canandaigua, New York. Ward made contact on the track with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. Ward, 20, went outside of his car to show his frustration with Stewart, but Stewart’s car made contact with him – evidently ending his life.
According to Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero, Ward was taken to a local hospital after being hit by Stewart, and was pronounced deceased on arrival. Although Stewart was not charged, an investigation is ongoing as local officials are still speaking to witnesses of the incident.
Stewart’s team, Stewart Haas Racing, released the following statement after the accident early Sunday morning:
“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We're still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."
In the accident, Stewart squeezed into Ward’s No. 13 car in Turn 2 – causing him to have a flat tire. When he exited the cockpit of his race car, Ward walked down the track to express his displeasure with the 43-year-old driver. However, during the caution laps, he was using a slightly higher lane compared to the other drivers, and Ward rapidly walked towards Stewart’s vehicle. He was caught underneath Stewart’s right rear tire – sending him flipping in the air multiple times until he landed flat on the ground.
Since he was a four-year-old, Ward had been racing cars. Starting out in go-karts, he progressed over the years to race in Empire Super Sprint division.
In 2013, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was involved in an incident at the same track in upstate New York as well. In a 15-car crash, which Stewart caused, Alysha Ruggles, 19, received a back injury.
After originally planning on racing the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, approximately one hour away from the dirt track where the incident took place, Stewart’s team announced at 10:20 a.m. ET that he will not be racing on Sunday afternoon. Even though he was not charged by county officials and was released, he opted to sit out the race after carefully discussing the incident with his team.
Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, told reports that Regan Smith will replace Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Sunday’s event. Smith drives the No. 7 car for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – a team that has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. There is no word on whether or not Stewart will return to the seat of his car next weekend at Michigan International Speedway since the investigation is pending.
“We at SHR support it and agree with it,” Zipadelli said. “It's a difficult time for both parties. This is what we feel is right and we're supporting Tony in it."
Following Zipadelli’s press conference, NASCAR issued this statement:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”