Watkins Glen Story Lines
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on August 10, 2014 | 8:25 A.M. EST
Marcos Ambrose won Saturday's Nationwide race. Now he looks for the weekend sweep. (Photo: Getty Images)
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Today isn’t the last chance for Marcos Ambrose or AJ Allmendinger to make the Chase, but it’s their best chance of scoring a win to become eligible for a title run.
It’s why both road-course experts tested at Watkins Glen International before this weekend. It’s why Ambrose competed in - and won - Saturday’s Nationwide race.
“There is a lot at stake,’’ said Ambrose, who won this event in 2011 and ’12. “You are racing for millions of dollars and a spot in the Chase and pride and for (Richard Petty). There is a lot going on in my mind.’’
Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 in each of this last three Cup starts at the Glen. He knows how much a win would mean to JTG Daugherty’s single-car effort.
“If we were to win to get into the Chase, it would just be great for all of our sponsors and this race team and to help keep building the race team,’’ he said.
When Ambrose and Allmendinger get on the track for today’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, they won’t focus on what making the Chase could mean for their teams. At that point, it will be only be about a competitor’s desire to win.
If Ambrose or Allmendinger can score a win to make the Chase is only one of the story lines today.
This won’t be much different from what has happened in the last two weekends at Indianapolis and Pocono where one could pit under green and not lose a lap. In those cases, teams often stopped when they reached their window to make it to the end.
Pay attention to who pits early because it could give an indication if a team is trying to make the race on only two stops - a riskier notion that will require saving fuel - or three stops where a driver can be more aggressive and not worry as much about fuel conservation.
“At lap 15, if you’re the best car on the race track, then you do a two-stop strategy,’’ said Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for Marcos Ambrose. “If you’re not the best car on the race track, I think you can do a three-stop strategy and hope for having the best tires at the end of the race. Different people will be on different options.
“(Jeff Gordon’s team) and some of those guys have nothing to lose, so those guys will probably be a on two-stop strategy. At lap 15, if we feel we can’t beat (Gordon) on the same strategy he’s on, we might as well do something different.’’
It’s easy to forget that Keselowski has finished second in each of the past three Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen. The record for consecutive runner-up finishes at a track is four by Dale Jarrett at Rockingham.
Keselowski starts ninth today and could be a factor at the end again.
“I feel like we are really fast in race trim,’’ he said. “We just need (the speed) not to fall off so much. If we can do that, we will have a shot to win.’’
Once a master at the road courses, he has not won on such a track since 2006 and not won at Watkins Glen since 2001.
Gordon is confident after winning the pole and with the season he’s had.
“I’m going to be aggressive,’’ he said of today’s race. “We are here to win.’’
This could be key place on the track. Drivers take a hard right, cut left, swing left again and then turn right. It can be a great passing place if a driver can out-brake another. It also can be a place where contact occurs and costs somebody a chance for the victory.
Always wild on an oval but it can get crazy as the field heads into Turn 1, a right-hand turn. Cars make contact here it’s not uncommon to see cars spinning. This is another place where positions can be gained or a race can be lost with an accident.