Instant Analysis: Watkins Glen

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Tom Jensen

Instant Analysis: Watkins Glen

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed." Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.

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    Matt from Atlanta: It seems to me that NASCAR cost Kurt Busch a win, and all hope of making the chase on a TERRIBLE call. Did they want him to put the car in reverse and back out of the pits? If the 8, 20, or 24 had done that, nothing would have happened.

    Tom Jensen: Matt, thanks for the question. Yes, the Kurt Busch penalty call will be debated for a long time. You hate to have officiating possibly determine a championship or even the playoff lineup. I will say this, though: You have 26 races to make the Chase. If Busch misses it, this will be but one of several lost opportunities Busch can look back on and say woulda, coulda, shoulda.

    Mike from Wadena, Minn.: I've flagged races for 12 years and no place I've ever been has allowed anyone to run around the track for 15 laps with a fuel leak like Kevin Harvick had. It's just plain dangerous. You get black flagged to fix it. What is NASCAR thinking?

    Tom Jensen: I have to admit, I was shocked that Harvick wasn't black-flagged to repair the fuel leak. Perhpas NASCAR officials will enlighten us later tonight as to why Harvick's car wasn't black flagged.

    Lap 90: For the second weekend in a row, Kasey Kahne wrecks on the last lap. This time he loses about 10 positions and deals his Chase hopes yet another blow.

    Harvick and Stewart wound up being the only drivers in the top 10 in points to finish in the top 10 in the race.

    For only the fifth time all season, Jimmie Johnson fails to finish in the top 10, coming home in 17th place. But his closest rival, Matt Kenseth was even worse, finishing 21st. RCR teammates Harvick and Burton are third and fourth in points now, flip-flopping points.

    Earnhardt holds onto 10th place in points, 54 ahead of Kahne. Twelfth is Kurt Busch, but he's 172 points out of 10th with four races to go. Greg Biffle is 180 points out and Carl Edwards 191.

    Lap 90: Kurt Busch wrecks again on last lap. Harvick wins, followed by Stewart, McMurray, R. Gordon, Edwards, Said, Pruett, Sadler, Newman and Ron Fellows.

    Lap 88: Harvick passes Stewart at start-finish line for the lead.

    Lap 87: Kyle Petty spins. No caution.

    Lap 86: Green flag.

    Lap 84: Newman reporting transmission problems.

    Lap 82: Green flag. Harvick leads Stewart, McMurray, R. Gordon and Newman. Stewart takes the lead.

    Waltrip loses control and crashes, bringing out a record 10th caution flag period. Top 10: Stewart, Harvick, McMurray, R. Gordon, Newman, Said, Burton, Edwards, Sadler and Pruett. Kurt Busch is 16th, Kyle Busch 17th and Gordon 18th. Johnson, Kenseth and Martin are 25th-27th, respectively, while Earnhardt was 30th.

    Lap 81: Jimmie Johnson pits from 25th place for tires.

    Lap 80: Kurt Busch has torn through the field with a wrecked car and is all the way up to 18th.

    Lap 79: The top 10: Harvick, Stewart, McMurray, R. Gordon, Newman, Burton, Said, Edwards, Sadler, Sorenson. J. Gordon has worked his way back to 20th, one spot behind Kyle Busch. Earnhardt is 35th now; if he stays there, he'll fall out of the top 10 in points.

    Lap 78: Mears spins out in Turn 1. Yellow flag comes out.

    Lap 77: After two early spins, Boris Said is back up to seventh. If he can stay there, that will give him three top-10 finishes in four races with his own car this year.

    Lap 74: Earnhardt goes off course; no yellow flag.

    Lap 70: Stewart passes McMurray for second and is about half a second behind Harvick. Twenty laps to go, as Harvick leads Stewart, McMurray, Sadler, Burton, Said, Edwards, R. Gordon, Newman and Sorenson.

    Lap 69: Stewart up to third and challenging McMurray for second. J.. Gordon is way back in 32nd now.

    Pat from Buchanan, Va.: With Martin, Kahne, and Edwards taking no tires, what other kind of pit strategies do you see other teams doing with only one scheduled pit stop left?

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for being with us. The strategies all depend on the number of cautions. Surely, some people will try no, 2, or 4 tires. All will be used probably.

    Lap 67: Green flag. Harvick leads McMurray, Sadler, Burton and Sorenson. Kurt Busch and Kenseth both had pitted for extensive repairs. Jeff Gordon gets spun on restart.

    Lap 65: Still under yellow, Harvick leads McMurray, Sadler, Burton and Sorenson. Kurt and Kyle Busch are 35th and 36th, respectively, the last two cars on the lead lap.

    Lap 62: Kurt Busch and Kenseth were among those caught up in the accident. Busch's day went from great to awful in a few laps, as heavy damage from the crash means he's out of contention — and almost certainly out of the Chase, too.

    Giancarlo from Mexico City, Mexico: What happened, why did Kurt Busch get that penalty?

    Tom Jensen: Giancarlo, thanks for the question. When the yellow comes out, NASCAR closes pit road to allow the field to form up behind the pace car, so that scoring be updated. Busch pitted a split second after pit road closed and that's why he was penalize

    Lap 61: Caution as Nemechek, Marlin, Wimmer and Brian Simo crash in the esses. It's an event-record eighth caution. Kyle Busch gets lucky dog and is back on the lead lap for the first time since early in the race.

    Lap 60: Harvick losing fuel out overflow tube, but should have enough gas to make it to the end. Top 10: Harvick, McMurray, Sadler, Burton, Riggs, Petty, Schrader, Said, Stewart.

    Lap 58: Harvick passes Sorenson for lead. McMurray up to second. Yellow flag as Goossens spins out in the esses. Biffle rejoins race 16 laps down.

    Lap 57: Kurt Busch's penalty was to go to the tail end of the longest line. After pit stops, the top 10 drivers are: Reed Sorenson leads Harvick, Sadler, McMurray, Scott Riggs, Burton, Petty, Elliott, Schrader and Said. Busch's radio not working, but he falls back at restart after NASCAR threatens black flag.

    Lap 56: Kurt Busch penalized for pitting too soon when pit road was closed. Stewart takes over race lead. Leaders all pit.

    Savannah from Albany, N.Y.: Tom, who is the most respected driver in NASCAR for his driving skills by the other drivers? Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or someone else?

    Tom Jensen: Savannah, an excellent question! The most respected driver in Nextel Cup, without question, is Mark Martin, who drives hard, but doesn't hold people up.

    Lap 55: Burton and Harvick first to pit. Kurt Busch pits. Caution out as Joe Nemechek spins. Kyle Busch gets Lucky Dog.

    M.E from Springfield, Ill.: Is Robby Gordon's road-racing style getting fair or horrible views from fellow drivers? Also, if you could look into your crystal ball, who will be Robby's manufacturer next year?

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for being with us today. Robby Gordon is, and has always been, an aggressive driver and I think for the most part, his style is tolerated by the rest of the drivers. Other than Michael Waltrip, of course. My crystal ball tells me there's a Ford in Robby's future.

    Lap 50: Track position is vital at Watkins Glen: Fifteen of the 23 races here have been won from a top-five starting position. Right now, 8 of the top-10 qualifiers are 10th or higher in the race.

    Lap 49: Young Denny Hamlin continues to impress. The rookie has been in the top 10 most all race long and is a solid seventh place with the race just past halfway.

    Lap 47: Green flag. Busch leads Stewart, R. Gordon, J. Gordon and Newman.

    Jeff from Dover, Del.: Tom, Why doesnt Nascar have more three event races at one track more often? Like Daytona and Dover with Cup, Busch, and Trucks. Fans like me from Dover get to watch it all in one weekend. Thanks, Jeff deployed in Afghanistan.

    Tom Jensen: Hey, Jeff, thanks for all you do for your country! I think doing more tripleheaders would be a great idea. I think the reason NASCAR doesn't do more tripleheaders is they are trying to hit different markets and TV audiences with the three different series.

    Lap 46: Kahne pits. Biffle is in the garage and his slim chance of making the Chase is now close to nil.

    Lap 44: Biffle heading to garage after bending the nose of his Roush Racing Ford on the inside guardrail. He was hit from behind by Kyle Petty. Caution flag is out for debris. Kyle Busch gets lucky dog.

    L.J. from Atlanta: Tom, will NASCAR ever put a road course race in the Chase for the Nextel Cup?

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for being with us, L.J. I don't know if NASCAR will put a road-course race in the Chase, but they should. It's the only type of track not currently represented in the Chase. And we could certainly stand to lose one of the five 1.5-mile races in the Chase now.

    Lap 42: Green flag. Busch leads Stewart, R. Gordon, J. Gordon and Mears.

    Lap 40: Pit road is open, but there are no takers. Jeff Gordon set an all-time NASCAR record winning six consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup road-course races, a streak that began with a victory at Watkins Glen in August 1997. His streak ran through Sonoma 2000 and ended with a 23rd-place at Watkins Glen in August 2000.

    Lap 38: The top-running Ford is Jamie McMurray in 15th place. Bill Elliott, subbing for the recently fired Jeremy Mayfield is 25th, one spot ahead of Martin. Caution out as Dave Blaney and Bill Elliott tangle and go off road. Kyle Busch gets the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 36: Green flag. Terry Labonte got the Lucky Dog, but is 10 laps down. Kyle Busch is back in the race, but is five laps down in 42nd place. Biffle's day hasn't gotten any better. He's mired back in 37th place.

    Lap 33: Caution out as Marc Goosens and Boris Said spin on the inner loop. Kurt Busch leads Stewart, Robby Gordon, Jeff Gordon and Mears.

    Mortie from Fond du lac, Wis.: Tom, I am wondering if NASCAR has ever thought about holding a road race here in Wisconsin at Road America in Elkhart Lake. What do you think?

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for the question, Mortie. Elkhart Lake, Wis., unfortunately, is not a big enough television market to attract NASCAR's interest. I don't think you'll see a Cup race there in the future.

    Lap 32: Green flag. Petty pits, Kurt Busch back in the lead.

    Lap 30: Kyle Petty leads Michael Waltrip, Kurt Busch, Schrader, Stewart, R. Gordon, J. Gordon, Harvick, Johnson and Mears. Waltrip is the only driver to compete in every Watkins Glen Cup race since the series returned to the track in 1986.

    Lap 29: Kyle Busch has a broken rear track bar and has to go to garage for repairs. This could deal a serious blow to his Chase hopes. Sadler gets Lucky Dog, Wimmer gets pit road speeding penalty.

    Lap 28: Yellow for a flat left-rear tire in Kyle Busch's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

    Lap 26: Earnhardt pits. Wimmer inherits lead after Earnhardt pits. Petty now second, Waltrip third.

    Lap 25: Johnson pits. The leaders now are Earnhardt, Scott Wimmer, Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip and Ken Schrader. Boris Said spins but recovers.

    Lap 24: Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne pit. Stewart passes Busch. Mark Martin and Ron Fellows pit, too.

    Lap 23: Leaders Kurt Busch and Stewart pit nose to tail. Busch barely wins race off pit road.

    Lap 22: Ryan Newman misses pit on pit entrance. He lost a lot of time.

    Lap 21: Kyle Busch pits for gas and tires; gets a pound of air pressure out of each rear tire.

    Robby Gordon, Boris Said also pit.

    Lap 20: Martin Truex, Jr. and Mears have also visited pits. Kenseth is nearly a full lap down.

    Lap 19: Matt Kenseth pits, gets tape off the nose.

    Lap 17: Kevin Harvick makes an early pit stop; Carl Edwards made one, too, to replace a flat tire. Terry Labonte rejoins race.

    Lap 15: Busch's margin over Stewart is 1.331 seconds with 15 of 90 laps in the books.

    Lap 13: The top 10 are: Kurt Busch, Stewart, Newman, J. Gordon, Kyle Busch, R. Gordon, Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Scott Pruett.

    Lap 10: After starting from the back, Biffle is 28th and Martin 29th. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (14th), Matt Kenseth (21st) and Martin (28th) are the only drivers in the top 10 in points who aren't in the top 10 in the race.

    Lap 8: Green flag. Busch passes teammate Newman on restart to take the lead. Stewart passes Newman for second, while Kyle Busch pressures Jeff Gordon for fourth. Harvick's tire smoke was caused by contact with Jimmie Johnson in Turn 1. The problem seems to be lessening.

    Lap 4, Caution No. 1: As Elliott Sadler gets turned by Casey Mears and spins out in the bus stop chicane.

    Lap 4: Terry Labonte, third at Infineon road race earlier this year, is out with a broken rear end and transmission.

    Lap 3: Kurt Busch back up to second ahead of Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 2: Kurt Busch hits Kahne back. Top five: Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart. Kevin Harvick's front end smoking from contact.

    Lap 1: Green flag. Kahne gets into back of Kurt Busch at start and knocks him off the track. The race distance today is 90 laps.

    Warm-up laps: There are plenty of road-race ringers in the field today at Watkins Glen, as always. Among the road-racing specialists in the field, Boris Said ran well at Sonoma, Calif., earlier this year and finished third here a year ago. Ron Fellows was runner-up here twice and will be behind the wheel of Cal Wells's No. 32 Chevrolet this time out. Scott Pruett, subbing for David Stremme in the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Dodge, has finished second, fourth and sixth in four races here.

    1:40 p.m.: Cars rolling. Kurt Busch's pole Friday was a first for a Dodge at Watkins Glen. The automaker has never won a race here, and a Ford hasn't won here since 1996, when Geoffrey Bodine won. Busch is red hot, sweeping both the Cup and Busch poles and winning the Busch race yesterday. That said, he's 174 points out of 10th and desperately needs a good finish today if he's to have any prayer of making the Chase.

    1:34 p.m.: Engines fired on an absolutely perfect day in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Heading to the back of the field for engine changes will be Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin. Greg Biffle will head to the back after a qualifying crash put him in a backup car. Marc Goossens also will start from the back.

    Prerace notes: Buck Baker won the first NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen International from the pole in 1957. The series raced here again in 1964-65 and returned for good in 1986, when the late Tim Richmond won from the pole.

    The AMD at the Glen marks Dale Jarrett's 625th Cup start, Jeff Burton's 425th Cup start and Kevin Harvick's 200th Cup start.

    The last Cup driver not named Gordon or Stewart to win at Watkins Glen was Steve Park in 2000. Since then Jeff Gordon (2001), Robby Gordon (2003) and Tony Stewart (2002, '04, '05) have dominated.

    This will be a critical race in the Chase standings. Just 174 points separate third place Jeff Burton from Kasey Kahne.

    Heading into last year's Watkins Glen race, nine of the drivers who made it into the Chase were already in the top 10. The lone exception was Matt Kenseth. The only driver in the top 10 heading into the Glen who missed the Chase was Dale Jarrett.

    John from Tacoma, Wash.: Do you think Petty Enterprises will look elsewhere for their engines? Is Evernham working on bettering his engine program?

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for joining us. I have no reason to believe Petty will look elsewhere for engines. And I can promise you, one of Ray Evernham's ongoing priorities is constant improvement. At his engine shop, 40 percent of the personnel are devoted solely to R&D — what to do next to make the engines produce more horsepower and last longer. That's not going to change anytime soon.

    Michael from Lewisburg, W.V.: Hello Tom, Lets go racing! We all know qualifying is vital at road courses. I heard Michael Waltrip say on Speed that he started in the back at a road course and finished in the top 10. Who has recovered from the furthest starting postition at a road course and took the checkered? Which 2 drivers starting today outside the top 15 do think could possibly pull off a win?

    Tom Jensen: We appreciate the question. In 2000, Steve Park won at Watkins Glen after starting from 18th place, the furthest back in the field a winner has ever won from. Outside the top 15, two guys to look for are Greg Biffle and Mark Martin, both of whom are in the back of the field. Biffle wrecked in practice and Martin blew a motor, so both will start the race at the end, but they have fast cars and both need good finishes today. Martin is a three-time Glen winner, and even though Biffle has never finished higher than 30th here, he did finish fourth at Sonoma in June.

    Ellen from McHenry, Ill.: I have read that David Gilliland is not "cleared" by NASCAR to race at Talladega. Could you please explain the process involved in being cleared? Also, will Gilliland be in the No. 38 car next week at Michigan?

    Tom Jensen: Hello, Ellen. Glad you can join us. Each driver needs formal approval from NASCAR to compete at different levels in the sport. For example, if a driver wanted to move from a local short track to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR would talk to track owners, other drivers and officials who'd seen that driver race and ask their opinions about that driver's ability, demeanor, etc.

    If the driver was deemed ready for the Truck Series, he or she would then receive approval from NASCAR. By the same token, a young, relatively inexperienced driver might be cleared to race at a short track — where speeds are relatively slow — and then be allowed to move up to faster tracks. That's what's going on with Gilliland, who NASCAR needs to approve before he races at Talladega.

    For Gilliland to be in the No. 38 next week, Elliott Sadler would have to get his release from Robert Yates, which would also require sponsor approval. Sadler then would have to sign a contract with Evernham Motorsports and move to that team, which might open the door for Gilliland.

    But since a rookie can only run seven Cup races and still maintain his or her eligibilty to race for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, RYR may not want to race Gilliland just yet.

    Put simply, there are an awful lot of variables at play, and they haven't all been worked out. If they do, Gilliland could be in the No. 38. If not, he won't. It's a complex deal, and it's a long way from done right now.

    Robert from Atlanta: What is wrong with Ford? Chevy and Dodge seem to have the better teams these days with only Roush making an effort to be competitive. Is it the new Fusion or a lack of support from Ford that is fueling Ford's decline in NASCAR?

    Tom Jensen: Robert, welcome to Fox! You raise a good question. I don't think there's necessarily anything "wrong" with Ford as such, but consider these factors:

    Despite NASCAR's efforts to equalize competition, some makes do better than others in different years. Dodges only won three races all of last season, for example. Also, there are only eight full-time Ford cars in the field, a number fewer than Dodge or Chevrolet has. Last year, Roush Racing had a once-in-a-lifetime season, and they've come back to earth a bit in 2006.

    Last, but certainly not least, Robert Yates Racing is struggling badly this season. But as far as the Fusion itself, there's nothing wrong with it at all.

    Chris from Amarillo, Texas: I enjoy the road course races. They provide a little break from the usual left turns. Do you think it is possible for NASCAR to look at adding an actual street course like the Champ Car series? They are, after all, stock cars. I think it would be rather interesting to see an actual street course used.

    Tom Jensen: Chris, thanks for being with us. A real street course would be tough for NASCAR because Nextel Cup cars are more than twice as heavy as Champ Cars and much larger dimensionally as well. If you watch open-wheel street races, passing is very difficult at best. With stock cars, it would be almost impossible. Also, street courses only have to accommodate 18 to 20 Champ Cars.

    No street course I know has the pit and garage facilities to handle 43 Cup teams.

    Dan from Elmira, N.Y.: Is NASCAR not even paying attention to the Busch Series? Can they still not understand why Cup regulars should not run every Busch race? I am a diehard NASCAR fan, but I don't watch the Busch Series anymore because I don't like how the Busch regulars keep getting jipped.

    Tom Jensen: Dan, you raise a great question. The NASCAR Busch Series situation defies an easy fix — or one would have been applied already. Yes, the Busch Series regulars are becoming a vanishing breed. On the other hand, the young kids on their way up want to race against Cup guys for the experience and the exposure — look what winning one Busch race did for David Gilliland's career. The other thing is, track owners want Buschwackers in the field because they help sell tickets and drive TV ratings, which is what they and NASCAR care most about.

    Mark from Houston, Texas: With 50 cars on the entry list at Watkins Glen, it made me think about next year. In addition to all of the current players, there will be five new Toyota teams (Bill Davis already has 2 teams so I'm not counting them), Robert Yates plans to add one more team, DEI is adding one more and MB2 plans two more teams. That's 11 teams that aren't around now. Is it now time to look at franchising? NASCAR makes a big deal about getting new owners into the sport, but it seems that there is a pretty big barrier to entry when you have 43 spots and the possibility of 60 cars trying to get it. That means 25 cars scrapping for 8 spots that aren't "locked in". What are your thoughts?

    Tom Jensen: Mark, thanks for joining us. I truly think next season could be a cold, hard dose of reality for NASCAR. If you have even 55 cars competing every week for 43 spots, that means better than 20 percent of the cars entered will miss the race every week. And while some of those cars will belong to small, unsponsored teams, many will belong to teams with big names and big sponsors, which could have disastrous repercussions. No sponsor wants to plunk down millions of dollars in advertising and marketing for a car that doesn't make the race. And if a dozen sponsors are unhappy every week, it will make attracting new ones very, very difficult in the future.

    Karin from Sidney, Ohio: Why was Bill Elliott not allowed to use his championship provisional at The Glen?

    Tom Jensen: Karin, welcome to's Instant Analysis! NASCAR mandates a cutoff time for its entry list. Cars entered after that time do not receive owner's points, and drivers entered after the cutoff are not eligible for the past champion's provisional. In the case of Watkins Glen, the cutoff was July 31. But the decision to replace Jeremy Mayfield with Bill Elliott in the No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge was not made until after the August 5 running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Therefore, the team missed the deadline, and Elliott didn't get the past champion's provisional. But he didn't need it, qualifying 31st on time.

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