Watkins Glen Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

Since more drivers aren't good on road courses than are, there are obvious favorites at Watkins Glen. Teams have tested at Road Atlanta and Virginia International Raceway because — with just five races to go — this road race has taken on a greater significance in the Race to the Chase for the Nextel Cup. This race will have a big impact on that race.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon: Although it's been a little while (2001) since Gordon won at Watkins Glen, he's a premier road racer with nine road-course wins overall and four victories at Watkins Glen. The No. 24 team can afford to approach the race a little more aggressively because they have such a huge Cup point standings lead.
  • Tony Stewart: With three Watkins Glen wins, Stewart is another obvious pick, and he's good at Sonoma, Calif., too. Plus, this team has good momentum with three consecutive top-six finishes.
  • Kevin Harvick: The defending champion of this race also finished 2nd at Sonoma in June. He's really matured into a great road racer. It wasn't until last year — his win at The Glen — that people said, "Wow, he really is a road racer. He's definitely in that category now."
  • Ron Fellows: This ringer has to be taken very seriously with his record on this course and his international road-racing prowess. He has three Busch wins and two Craftsman Truck wins at this road course so he's absolutely in the hunt.
  • Denny Hamlin: Fastest in Friday's practice, Hamlin likes challenging racetracks like The Glen and Pocono. The harder the track is, the better he does. He's second in points, and that's for a reason. They've been very consistent, but they've also been competitive. Consistency has a negative connotation sometimes, but their pit stops are getting better after a big shakeup earlier this year.
  • What to Watch

  • Speed is the difference: There are more high-speed places to pass at Watkins Glen than there are at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. After the Esses, there's a long straightaway. The Glen has more of an elevation change to it. Taking nothing away from Sonoma, The Glen is just different. All road courses are not the same.
  • Pit stops are different, too: It's the only race of the season when the fuel filler is on the passenger side of the race car, but crews practice three times a week and maybe even more this week, just to get their timing down.
  • Responsible on the road: At road courses more than just about any other racetrack, it's up to the driver to take care of his car and know who is running around him. Drivers have to do whatever it takes to keep their cars on the racetrack. If you get off course, you'll lose a lot of track position so drivers can't depend on spotters.
  • Fuel focus: You can try to short-pit or pit out of sequence, but it's such a big gamble on a road course. Teams are really focused on getting good fuel mileage. This sport is monkey see, monkey do. When Juan Pablo Montoya won at Sonoma, he saved fuel by throwing it out of gear, coasting and letting momentum carry the car. Teams can get burned trying to play a track position game with early pit stops. Focused on fuel and saving equipment until the end of the race is key.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspective

    An awful lot of drivers are huddled up in conversations between the car haulers. A couple of weeks ago, I saw Aric Almirola and Regan Smith having a long talk. I just stood there and thought, "I guess those two young men are talking about their futures." It's interesting to watch as Jeremy Mayfield is in play now, and there's speculation that Budweiser is going to go to Kasey Kahne. Teams are already getting ready for next year when the Car of Tomorrow will be run in every single race. Until recently, you never heard the word "agent" in NASCAR. But now, everything goes through driver agents, just like rookie NFL quarterbacks Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell. Also, it's a watershed moment in the sport because it's very apparent that teams have to get some serious financial help to be competitive. That's why Ray Evernham partnered with Montreal Canadiens' owner George Gillett. Robert Yates recently did a merger, and Jack Roush and started the season with the owner of the Boston Red Sox. Partnerships are almost standard operating procedure now. You have to have a partner, or you'll be gone.

    Finish Line

    A Watkins Glen race is a little bit like a restrictor plate race at Daytona or Talladega. You can't get off track or have a bad pit stop. There have been some pretty wild finishes in the past between two cars or as many as 10 cars, which is why finishes can be like finishes at Daytona and Talladega.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Aric Almirola, Jeremy Mayfield, Regan Smith

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