The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series wrapped up a double-header weekend at Watkins Glen International for the Zippo 200 and the Cheez-It 355. Here are five takeaways from the weekend in Upstate New York:
·Crowd: Watkins Glen was able to have their second consecutive sell-out for their NASCAR weekend. With a strong crowd attendance, it is obvious what NASCAR can continue to work on to bring fans to the track, that is on-track product. Watkins Glen provided one of the better races in 2016. Watkins Glen did not disappoint.
·Carousel: Over the past few years, the carousel at Watkins Glen has brought some of the most vicious wrecks in NASCAR history. Safety has to be the number one priority. However, with other racing series racing at Watkins Glen and using “The Boot”, this will provide a challenge.
·Cup drivers in Xfinity: When Joey Logano won Saturday’s Zippo 200, there seemed to be no outrage among fans about a Sprint Cup driver racing in the Xfinity Series. The issue with most fans seems to be when Kyle Busch wins the race. If fans are going to complain about Cup drivers in Xfinity, it needs to be for all Cup drivers, not just one.
·Road-course racing: Road courses once used to be a drag to drivers, crew chiefs, and fans when it was their turn on the schedule. However, over the past couple years, there has been a renaissance among road course racing. I am a firm believer that a road course should be placed in each chase for the championship. Why? A driver must have the prowess on every type of speedway on the NASCAR schedule. It will be interesting to see where road course racing will go within the next couple years.
·Rivalries: I am a huge proponent and believer that NASCAR needs a good rivalry like Petty/Pearson. Watkins Glen produced the potential of a couple new rivalries among Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski and among Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger. Truex and Larson were dumped by Keselowski and Allmendinger on the last lap. My hope is that these spur into new rivalries because that is what NASCAR desperately needs.
What are your takeaways from this weekend in Watkins Glen?
2014 was a dream come true for the No. 47 team. AJ Allmendinger had joined the organization on a part-time basis in the season prior, and he was set to contend for them full-time. Not only did he run well, but thanks to an alliance with Richard Childress Racing – Allmendinger was able to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his eighth season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Highlighted by a victory at Watkins Glen in an intense duel with road course ace Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger’s season was quite impressive. In his first season working with crew chief Brian Burns, not only did he win his first career race, but he also gave the team, crew chief and most crew members their first career Sprint Cup Series triumph.
Although the team’s top story was the win at a road course, Allmendinger did something that the team had not accomplished since 2012 at Martinsville. He earned their first top-10 finish in a non-plate race in 43 events with an eighth-place result at Fontana. Earning five top 10s on the year doesn’t seem astonishing, but entering the season – Allmendinger’s goal was to move the team from a 30th-place organization into the top 20.
Not only was the No. 47 Chevrolet averaging a finish just near 20th-place, but he led over 25 laps in two races.
Inconsistency plagued the small team throughout the season with 11 finishes of 25th or worse. However, Allmendinger became the leader that he was destined for. Being in a smaller environment compared to what he was once within at Team Penske or Team Red Bull, the California-native finished on the lead lap 19 times, which is equivalent to Bobby Labonte’s results with the team in 2012 and 2013.
For the 2015 season, Allmendinger will continue to work with Burns. The two are signed through 2016, and they have potential to become consistent contenders for the near future. Although it might not be the largest organization, the team has steadily come together.
Aspirations were set on making this a multi-car team several years ago, but now they have begun to set their sights on making the No. 47 car a top-tier one. Allmendinger is proving he is worthwhile, and the team should improve in 2015. As their alliance with RCR continues, things could go well with the new aerodynamic package that is set to go in place as Allmendinger is a mechanical driver, which is where his talent will come into play once again like the road courses.
Marcos Ambrose needs a victory. There is no way around it. In order to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he must get rid of the egg in the win column, or he will need to move up a few spots in the standings.
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits the road course in upstate New York. The only track where Ambrose has recorded victories in NASCAR’s top-tier division, Watkins Glen has by far been his top track. In six races at the Glen, Ambrose has five top-fives.
“We both know we have a chance to win this race to lock into the Chase and that is a big thing for our team and would make our year,” Ambrose said in a press conference on Friday morning. “It is an important weekend no doubt. You have to try to downplay that as best as you can coming in. We are excited. We had a good test up here last week and felt like the car was a repeat of last year and we had a fast car last year too. We have our fingers crossed that it comes off the truck here pretty quick and we can get back down to business and work on starting in the front.”
Arguably, this is going to be the most important weekend of the 37-year-old’s NASCAR career. With rumors circling around Roger Penske and Dick Johnson teaming up to form a V8 Supercar team in Ambrose’s home country of Australia, he might just be on the move. Although he claims to have not made a decision on his future, it appears as if he is leaning away from leaving NASCAR competition on a full-time basis unless his Richard Petty Motorsports team can find some consistency before the season concludes.
“It’s going to be up to Marcos. I don’t know if he’s made a complete decision as far as where he is going to be. I know he wants to run some, but I don’t know if he wants to run all the time or not. We ain’t got a clue yet,” said team co-owner Richard Petty. “It (the season) is a little bit better than it was last year. We got a long way to go. We have one car in the Chase, but we still have to run well. Just because you are in the Chase doesn’t mean much.”
If he opts not to return to full-time competition in NASCAR, Petty said the team might run him on a part-time basis. The V8 Supercar season starts around the same time that the NASCAR season does, but the season continues on until early December – leaving very few options for Ambrose if he wants to do both.
“You know what you need from the race car to get to victory lane and that inner confidence to do what you need to do,” Ambrose said. “My past history is no guarantee at the future. That is the way I look at it. Each weekend is unique to itself and this weekend in particular, already there are some different angles that we haven’t had to deal with before like the new ride height and downforce rules as well as fuel mileage and how that comes into play which will be different compared to last year.”