NASCAR

Strategy proved key at Watkins Glen

Rough on the road
The car of Marcos Ambrose is towed away after wrecking late Sunday at Watkins Glen.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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If you look at the history of the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, especially in the last 20 to 25 percent of the races there, we’ve had a fair amount of wrecks. I think a lot of it has to do, once again, with the increased competition on the road courses these days.

You hear us all the time talk about how the teams and drivers over the last few years have really ramped up the effort they put into road course racing. I think we are seeing the by-product of that increased competition. Honestly, it is just as close if not closer to the type of competition you will find at Michigan this week, what it was at Pocono two weeks ago or what it will be at any of the remaining 14 events this year.

The competition is just so close. It’s one of those deals where there is a lot more in the driver’s hands. If we see the same scenario we saw Sunday with Brad Keselowski all over the rear bumper of Kyle Busch who may be leading at Michigan this weekend, Brad won’t have a whole lot he can do. However, at Watkins Glen where the aero is such a small factor in the overall equation, it’s more in the driver’s hands of what he can and can’t do.

I also believe the Chase format has changed the way race teams and drivers look at road courses these days. In the past, you had a handful of good road course drivers, you went there and if you got a top 15, you were happy. There were only two road courses on the circuit, so you ran them both and got them behind you.

Now with the Chase, it has put equal importance on the two road course events. It’s a chance to get a win, which is critical to making it into the Chase, or it will give you bonus points once the Chase starts for having a win.

The other thing about road course racing is the strategy that comes into play. We saw it again last Sunday at Watkins Glen. I mean, the absolute turning point of that race was when the caution flag came out on lap 60. That benefited the top four finishers Sunday because they had already made their green-flag stops.

I don’t want to second-guess what Marcos Ambrose and his team was thinking, but when you hit your window, especially on the last stop of the day, you have to come to pit road. It’s especially true when you are racing guys for the win, and they hit pit road but you don’t. Now, we also can’t ignore, based on Marcos Ambrose’s interview, they also had something going bad on the car. So while it wasn’t a complete game-changer, not pitting when the others did definitely put Marcos and his crowd in a bad situation. Again, though, my point is when you hit your fuel window, especially when you know it will take you through the end of the race, you simply have to get to pit road.

If you don’t, then it will take you completely out of the picture. We saw it happen to Marcos and a handful of others Sunday. When that fuel window opens up and you don’t take advantage of it, then and something happens like the caution I mentioned earlier, and there simply is not enough time on a road course to make up all that lost ground.

Tagged: Marcos Ambrose

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