Friday, August 10, 2012

Watkins Glen Practice Notes: Kyle Busch Fastest in Final Session

Kyle Busch fastest in the final practice at the Glen (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Because of rain eliminating one of the Watkins Glen practices on Friday, the teams got a Saturday morning bonus of 86 additional minutes of track time squeezed in before qualifying. Kyle Busch used the extra time to fine tune his set-up and laid down the fastest lap of 127.458 in the final of his 22 laps run.

Busch swept the 2008 road course season and has a 9.3 average finish at Watkins Glen that includes a third-place finish last season. Kyle’s top speed was over 2 mph faster than the top speed his brother Kurt set Friday in the only practice session run. Kurt Busch finished with the 20th fast lap in this practice.

Juan Pablo Montoya had the second fastest lap (127.446) of the session followed by Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose and Martin Truex Jr.

For Edwards, the third fastest lap has to be encouraging considering he’s always run well at Watkins Glen and is outside looking in for the final Chase position with five races remaining. He’s got an 8.7 average finish at the Glen with a career best of third in 2009. He’s finished 12th or better in his last six starts on the road course. Should he win this week, he will pass Jeff Gordon in the Chase standings by virtue of most points among drivers with one win.

The bad news for Edwards is that Gordon looks to have a car ideally set-up for this week. Gordon finished with the sixth fastest lap during the Saturday morning practice session. Prior to his sixth-place finish at Sonoma in June, Gordon tested this car at Road Atlanta and said most of the notes from that test session were geared more towards Watkins Glen because of similarities with the long straights. Between the two solid practice sessions for Gordon, he looks like he’ll be one of the drivers to beat on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson had the seventh fastest lap of the session using the same chassis that won with at Sonoma in 2010. Johnson captured his fast lap in the final of his 15 laps on the morning. He was one of two drivers to run at least 10-consecutive laps with an average speed 2.5 mph faster than Clint Bowyer, the other driver to run 10 straight laps.

Bowyer, the Sonoma winner from June, finished with the 15th fastest lap. Five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart had the 13th fastest lap and 2006 winner Kevin Harvick was ninth fastest.

Top-5 Watkins Glen Practice 2 Speeds
1) Kyle Busch 127.458 mph
2) Juan Pablo Montoya 127.446
3) Carl Edwards 127.412
4) Marcos Ambrose 127.163
5) Martin Truex Jr. 127.095

Watkins Glen Practice 2 (Final) Speeds

Starting Lineup - Montoya Busch on the Pole

Kurt Busch Fastest in Friday's Lone Session

By Micah Roberts

Jeff Gordon looks strong in Friday's practice session at the Glen (Getty)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series drivers were only able to get one practice session in Friday due to rain as they prepare for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International. Rain wiped out the first session scheduled for 110-minutes and delayed the start of the final session leaving the 43 teams with considerably less time on the track than they had hoped for. Because of the lack of time, NASCAR has added an extra 85-minute session set to begin Saturday at 8:00 am (ET).

Kurt Busch came on strong in the late stages of the 61-minute session with the fastest lap at 125.055 mph. Busch is using the same car this week that finished third on the road course at Sonoma in June. While driving for Penske last season, Busch won at Sonoma and was also runner-up at Watkins Glen in 2010.

Ryan Newman was runner-up at the Glen in his first Cup attempt during his rookie year in 2002, but hasn’t been able to do better than eighth-place since. He took the first step by practicing well Friday with the second fastest lap (124.406), gaining his top speed in the late stages like Busch did.

Keeping up with the runner-up theme, Brad Keselowski finished second in last season’s Watkins Glen race. Keselowski was fastest for the first 50-minutes of practice until being topped by Busch and Newman. His lap of 124.126 mph help up good enough for third best in the session. Keselowski is using a chassis that was new for the Sonoma race and finished 12th.

Five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart finished with the fourth fastest lap (124.120) and looks to be in great shape to chase after his sixth win, which would give him eight road course wins over his career. Stewart is using the same car that battled to a runner-up finish at Sonoma after starting 24th. This will be the second start for the car.

Four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon finished with the fifth fastest lap (124.044) of the session and looks to solidify his Chase chances even more with his second win of the season. Gordon is fresh of his rain-shortened win at Pocono last week and will be looking for his 10th career road course win, the last of which came at Sonoma in 2006.

Road course expert Marcos Ambrose finished with the seventh fastest lap using the same car that finished eighth at Sonoma. Between the two road courses, Ambrose has fared much better at Watkins Glen, sporting a 2.3 average finish in four starts, including his first Cup win there last season.

Juan Pablo Montoya has to be mentioned just because of the road skills that brought him a win at Monaco. He finished practice with the 12th fastest lap using the car that won at Watkins Glen in 2010. His only two Cup wins have come on the road courses. His other win came at Sonoma in 2007. It really doesn’t seem like he’s been in NASCAR that long, does it?

Just because he won at Sonoma in June and is using the same car this week, we’ll mention that Clint Bowyer finished with the 19th fastest lap in practice. Bowyer’s best finish at the Glen was ninth in 2009. Bowyer also finished the session with the most laps (18) run.

Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton will be going to back-up cars as a result of wrecking into each other thanks to Patrick Long blowing an engine and spraying oil everywhere.

Saturday’s qualifying is scheduled to start at 11:40 am (ET) and Sunday’s race is expected to start at 1:16 pm.

Top-5 Watkins Glen Practice 1 Speeds
1) Kurt Busch 125.055 mph
2) Ryan Newman 124.406
3) Brad Keselowski 124.126
4) Tony Stewart 124.120
5) Jeff Gordon 124.044

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more Roberts insights and post-practice analysis on the race, go to or follow on Twitter: MicahRoberts7. 

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