Watkins Glen Rear View Mirror

W.Glen Int'l

"There was a packed crowd for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. NASCAR road-course racing has evolved into the most entertaining form of competition on the schedule." (Photo: Getty Images)

News, notes and observations from a weekend of racing at Watkins Glen International:

There was a packed crowd for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and it should have come as no surprise.  NASCAR road-course racing has evolved into the most entertaining form of competition on the schedule.

Led by the introduction of double-file restarts a few years ago, stock car road racing has undergone a seismic shift from one of the most boring things on the planet to a must-see event.

Although the season’s earlier trip to Sonoma, Calif., wasn’t very memorable unless you were a Martin Truex Jr. fan, Sunday’s stop at The Glen had action aplenty from the drop of the green flag.  Side-by-side racing, contact, strategy, high emotions and a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag added up to one of the best races of 2013.

The excitement has, of course, triggered some fans to ask for more road courses added to the schedule, an idea easier said than done.  The bloated Cup slate simply has no room for addition while three road courses on the Nationwide schedule (Road America, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio) might be bordering on too many.  Perhaps the Truck Series, which goes back to a road circuit for the first time in over a decade this Labor Day Weekend with a trip to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, will add a second in 2014.

While I certainly enjoy road racing much more than I did in the past, when vacation time was sometimes used during Sonoma and Watkins Glen weekends, let’s not get carried away.  Like last month’s truck race at Eldora, too much of a good thing has the potential to make it less special.

Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen stood out and I’m good right now knowing Sprint Cup cars won’t turn left and right again until 2014.

- Marcos Ambrose looked well on his way to a third straight victory at The Glen until he was caught in a pit stop sequence that put him in the middle of the pack.  All of a sudden, Ambrose couldn’t get his car – which was nothing short of a rocket ship when he was in front of the field – around anyone, before he was finally caught up in a chain-reaction crash and exited.  It was another example of the aero problems that continue to plague this new Gen-6 Sprint Cup car, the same problems faced with previous incarnations.  Clean air is still very much king and that’s not going to change any time soon unless something drastic is done.

- Jeff Gordon’s year has been two steps forward and then about six steps back.  That trend continued Sunday when he was knocked out early with a hard crash.  It was the fourth this year Gordon has exited due to an accident.  With only four races left to set the Chase field, the four-time champion is going to need a flawless month of racing to make his way into the playoffs for a shot at this year’s title.  Unfortunately, the way 2013 has gone for Gordon, I wouldn’t bet on it.

- Outside of restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and Talladega, crashing at Watkins Glen might cause the most damage to cars anywhere on the circuit.  The high speeds around the twisting road course combined with sudden stops - whether it be into one of the SAFER barriers, guardrails or a fellow competitor’s machine - usually create some pretty seriously twisted sheet metal.  Gordon found that out the hard way in his early incident, as did the drivers (and the wall) involved in the multi-car wreck that brought out the red flag just before halfway point.

- AJ Allmendinger’s comeback year added another chapter when he drove the JTG/Daugherty Racing ride home to a 10th-place finish despite mechanical challenges.  Allmendinger has proven to the NASCAR garage he could be a viable candidate to return to the Cup Series, but the shortage of available seats are working against it from happening.  You have to wonder how Allmendinger would fare as a permanent replacement for the injured Tony Stewart the rest of the season.

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