Monday, August 8, 2011

Watkins Glen Storylines

Keselowski's ankle to be really tested this week (Getty)
A new 2011 NASCAR wrinkle placed greater emphasis on winning, and Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway gave a glimpse how. The proof: Iron man Brad Keselowski’s second win of the season might have just catapulted him into NASCAR’s playoffs.

After race No. 26, the top 10 drivers will earn spots in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Spots 11 and 12 will go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.

Brad Keselowski, who won his second race driving with a broken left ankle, leads that pack, placing him in that top Wild Card spot with five races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set.

Expect the Wild Card discussion to buzz even more this weekend, as a wild-card race heats up the wild card chase.

Watkins Glen International awaits. The second and final road-course event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is a seven-turn image of unpredictability.

Tony Stewart, the all-time leader at Watkins Glen, looks to nab his first win of the season in Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carl Edwards slam-bang finish at Iowa Speedway provided the perfect lead-in to the second of three road-course races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season. This one takes place Saturday at Watkins Glen, the Zippo 200 at The Glen.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series faces an open week this weekend, with a tight points battle – and a one that might change drastically.


Where The Wild Things Are: Outside The Top 10
Stewart could use good run this week
At first glance, making the Chase looks easier in 2011. This season, there are two ways to make it happen – land in the top 10 after race No. 26, or win and snag one of the two wild card spots.

Neither has proven as easy as it looks.

Cracking the top 10 has always been difficult and this year is no different. Just ask Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton – perennial championship candidates, all of whom are currently outside the top 10 in points.

But it just might be the Wild Card battle that’s fiercest of them all. There are now four drivers between spots 11 and 20 with wins – Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and David Ragan.

Keselowski takes the top spot thanks to his two wins (Kansas and Pocono). Hamlin currently holds the second spot via his win at Michigan. The tie breaker for the Wild Card spot is points position. Hamlin is currently 11th, compared to Menard in 14th and Ragan in 19th.

Road Course Presents Big Opportunity For Wild Card Hopefuls
Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose have two hurdles to leap before landing a playoff spot. One: Win a race. Two: Get into the top 20. Even then, they might need some help.

The two road-course talents could very well check off step one this weekend at The Glen. Montoya, now 21st in points, won last year’s event and has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races. Ambrose, 23rd in points and winless at Watkins Glen, has finished third, second and third in his three races at the upstate New York track.

Feud Bubbles Between Champions Johnson, Busch
Johnson shows some emotion! (Getty)
Kyle Busch vs. Kevin Harvick sparked wild interest in the early goings of the season, thanks to a post-race skirmish at Darlington.

The next two combatants: Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Neither particularly loved the way the other raced at the close of Sunday’s race at Pocono.

Heated post-race words may have escalated to more if not for interference from their respective teams.

The words spilled into the media center, where Busch said, "Good hard-fought battle for us, rooting for those two in front of me, my teammate and my younger brother to wreck each other, but not to wreck each other. Of course I wanted both of them to win and I wanted to win. Anybody but the 48."

Both are past champions and both are legitimate title contenders again this year. And both have had past run-ins. This could get interesting.

Sprint Summer Showdown Turns Left…And Right
The Sprint Summer Showdown hits the road course, with two surprises capturing the first two events: Paul Menard at Indianapolis and Brad Keselowski at Pocono. The winners of Indy, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol are eligible for the massive prize at Atlanta -- $3 million. The bonus will be split three ways: a million each for the driver, the driver’s charity, and one lucky fan. If one of those eligible drivers wins at Atlanta, the bonus is theirs.

Who’s the best bet at The Glen? The top five in Driver Rating usually provides a solid glimpse: Tony Stewart (129.6), Juan Pablo Montoya (113.5), Marcos Ambrose (113.2), Kyle Busch (102.1) and Kurt Busch (101.9).

Future Is Now: Youth Movement Hits NASCAR
This past weekend – and oftentimes, this whole season – has been ruled by the young.

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 21-year-old Joey Logano was the hard-luck loser at Pocono. He performed admirably, leading 44 laps and holding the lead when the yellow flag – then red – came out for rain. But the rain stopped, the track dried and his race crumbled. A low tire forced him to the pits, and he eventually finished 26th.

In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 23-year-old Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won again. He did so while outdueling teammate Carl Edwards in a wreck-at-the-checkers finish. After the race, an impressed Edwards said the kid will be around the sport for a long time. Don’t be surprised if he carries the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion label along for the rest of his long career.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been a showcase for the young guns, too. Cole Whitt, 20, held the points lead earlier this season. Two other rookies, Parker Kligerman, also 20, and Joey Coulter, 21, are both in the top 10 in points.

Then there’s teenager Dylan Kwasniewski. At 16 years, two months, Kwasniewski became the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series West’s 57-year history, winning the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Colorado National Speedway on Saturday. The previous youngest winner was Joey Logano, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race-winner.

Ringers Pepper Entry List
Often times when the series heads to a road course, unfamiliar faces show up. They’re known as the road-course ringers.

Welcome to the entry list, Boris Said and P.J. Jones. Said, who finished third at The Glen in 2005, will drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. Jones, who finished fourth at Watkins Glen in 2002, will drive the No. 77 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge.

But a victory rarely – and lately, never – happens. Though sometimes successful, series regulars usually trump the road course ringers. The last time a "road course ringer" won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was 1973 when Mark Donohue won at Riverside International Raceway.

- NASCAR Media Services

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