What to Watch: Watkins Glen

Max Papis

Max Papis says he's not worried about starting 29th in today's race at Watkins Glen. (Photo: Getty Images)


WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Marcos Ambrose chases history.  Max Papis will be chasing several cars.

Ambrose seeks to become the third driver to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen International in Sunday's Cheez-It 355.  Papis starts 29th, driving in place of Tony Stewart, who suffered a broken leg during a sprint car crash last week in Iowa.

Despite the poor starting spot, Papis isn’t worried.

"I just think it’s going to make it more fun for you guys to watch," Papis said with a smile after qualifying Saturday.  He admits his feelings were different earlier this weekend.

"I can’t deny that (Friday) before I sat in the car, I was a little nervous," Papis said.  "Then I ran the first 10 laps.  I really settled down, and I felt pretty calm and pretty good about what I did."

Papis was the logical choice to replace Stewart this weekend since he tested Stewart’s car July 30 at Road Atlanta.  Papis said he feels comfortable working with crew chief Steve Addington.

"I feel I’ve done really well with the team," Papis said.  "It doesn’t feel like I’ve only been working with them for 48 hours."

The team hasn’t said who will drive the car next weekend at Michigan.  Competition Director Greg Zipadelli has suggested they’ll use a Nationwide driver beginning at Bristol in two weeks.  No timetable has been given for Stewart's return.

Sunday afternoon, though, the focus will be on Papis.  That is one of the stories to watch at Watkins Glen.  Here are others:

Marcos Ambrose - Always a threat on a road course.  He’ll start from the pole.  What makes Ambrose stand out even among those with a road-racing background?  His driving style.

"What makes him so good, not to mention his road racing experience over the years, is his aggressiveness," Jeff Gordon said.  "He’s just so aggressive.  While I think sometimes that holds him back on the ovals, it pays off big-time here.  That’s going to be tough to beat.  He doesn’t do as well at Sonoma as he does here because this track, it loves aggressiveness.  Sonoma does not like aggressiveness."

Ambrose has never finished worse than third in five previous Cup races at Watkins Glen.

Strategy - Do crew chiefs try to make Sunday’s race in only two pit stops or three stops?  Fuel mileage is a key, but so is the type of driver.

If a crew chief thinks his driver can pass a lot of cars, then a three-stop strategy works, giving the driver fresher tires to come through the pack.  Crew chief Brian Pattie used that strategy to help Juan Pablo Montoya win at Watkins Glen in 2010.

If a driver isn’t as aggressive, then a two-stop is the better strategy, allowing them to run a steady pace.  Pattie used that game plan to help Clint Bowyer win at Sonoma last year.

Watch who pits when because it will reveal their strategy.

Esses - Also referred to as Turns 2, 3, and 4.  This area is key because it leads to the longest straightaway on the 2.45-mile course.

"That’s where you can make big-time passes if you get a run on somebody going into the 'Bus Stop,' " said Kurt Busch, who finished second in the 2010 race.  "Turn 2 is a focal point to make sure you’re not too tight or too loose."

14 - No, this isn’t a car number but a starting position.  No winner has started worse than 14th in the last 12 years at Watkins Glen.  That’s not good news for Carl Edwards (starting 16th), Jimmie Johnson (18th), Kasey Kahne (19th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (25th), Kevin Harvick (26th) and Gordon (28th).

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