On Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series made its second, and last, stop at a road course for the season. The drivers had to master the left and right turns of Watkins Glen International during the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. With 7 turns and a series of left and right turns known called “the bus stop”, Watkins Glen can be a big challenge for drivers, as well as crew chiefs. Fuel mileage is the determining factor for deciding when to pit at road courses. Crew chiefs have to calculate the fuel mileage by figuring out the fuel window then subtracting that from the final lap of the race to determine the earliest they can pit and still make it on fuel to the end. Of course, now they have to figure in green-white-checkered finishes, but on Sunday, the scheduled 90 laps would be completed—no more, no less. As those laps flew by, it became apparent that nobody could even challenge Juan Pablo Montoya as he powered his way to Victory Lane on Sunday.
After the organization scored its first win of the 2010 season last week at Pocono Raceway, the Roush Fenway Racing drivers set their sights on Sunday’s road course action. The organization has three wins at Watkins Glen, and with three of the Roush Fenway drivers still winless this season, they had hopes of getting another win for the team. Despite the great runs the week before, none of the Roush Fenway drivers were able to contend for the win on Sunday. All four finished inside the top 25, but only one finished inside the top 10.
For David Ragan and his crew, the entire weekend was a struggle. The team didn’t really have a plan to win. In fact, their main goal was just to stay on the course and work their way up to at least the middle of the field for the finish. Not exactly a goal most teams would set for themselves, but road courses seem to always give Ragan trouble. On Sunday, he took the green flag from the 35th position, and managed to gain three positions in the first 17 laps. Ragan pitted on lap 27 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. With the caution flag only waving twice in the first 42 laps, the adjustments made on lap 27 appeared to work as Ragan remained competitive during the green-flag runs. After a caution came out on lap 42 for multiple incidents, the green flag waved just past the halfway point on lap 46, and Ragan was scored in the 28th position after he pitted for four tires, fuel, and more adjustments. His lap times continued to improve throughout the race. When green-flag stops began around lap 58, Ragan stayed out longer than the leaders. The leaders had stayed out under the caution on lap 42 so Ragan had a little more fuel than they did. He was up to 4th at one point due to staying out longer, but the caution came out two laps later for debris. Ragan had to pit and restarted near the 25th position. He might have managed a top 20 finish if it wasn’t for the fact he wheel hopped the car getting into turn 6 with about 10 laps remaining. He slipped from 22nd to 26th. He fought hard the last laps of the race to finish 25th. Ragan is still 24th in the standings.
After winning at Pocono last Sunday, Greg Biffle and his crew had hopes of making it two in a row. For both practice sessions, the No. 16 3M Ford was atop the speed charts. Biffle qualified 7th and from the drop of the green flag, he began to move toward the front. He was 5th when crew chief Greg Erwin called him to pit road for a green-flag stop on lap 27 for four tires, fuel, and some adjustments. Thanks to a quick stop by his crew, Biffle returned to the track in the 7th position. He worked his way back to the 5th position by the time another round of green-flag stops began. Biffle pitted on lap 59, and about two laps later the caution came out before green-flag stops had cycled through. Biffle restarted in the 15th position on lap 63. However, his good day would be ruined when Boris Said, in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, tried to make it three-wide going into turn one. Said made contact with Biffle, resulting in a damaged left-fender on the No. 16 Ford that led to a tire-rub. Luckily for Biffle, the caution came out just 3 laps later, which allowed him to pit so his crew could repair the damage. He restarted in the 33rd position and was 25th when the final caution came out just a few laps later. Biffle was able to pick up one more position after the final restart to finish 24th. He is 11th in the standings.
Loose-handling issues plagued Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford in practice and qualifying. He started in the 31st position on Sunday. By lap 13, he had worked his way up to the 27th position, but radioed to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the car was loose and that it was getting looser as the laps went by. Kenseth ran as high as 12th before he had to pit under green on lap 28 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. The caution flag came out just as the No. 17 crew completed their stop. Kenseth restarted 25th on lap 31 and was 22nd by lap 35. When the caution came out again on lap 42, Kenseth took the opportunity to inform Fennig that it felt as though he was wheel-hopping in the turns just a bit. Fennig told Kenseth that they would stick with their original plan. Kenseth stayed out under the caution and restarted 17th on lap 46. Green-flag stops began again around lap 57, and Kenseth pitted on lap 60 for four tires, fuel, and another air pressure adjustment. More cautions came out in the final stretch of the race, but Kenseth didn’t make any more pit stops. He took the checkered flag in the 13th position and is 10th in the standings.
During qualifying on Saturday, Carl Edwards powered his way to the top of the leaderboard in the No. 99 Aflac Ford to win the pole. It had been nearly two years since Edwards had last started a race from the first position. However, once the green flag dropped, Edwards didn’t remain in the first position very long. In fact, he lost the lead before they even made it to turn one and never led a single lap the whole race. Edwards was back to 5th by lap 6, and radioed to crew chief Bob Osborne that his car was tight. He made a green-flag stop on lap 28 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. The caution came out right after that, and the leaders, who had all completed their green-flag stops, stayed out. Edwards restarted 3rd on lap 31 and easily passed Marcos Ambrose for second. Just a lap later, Ambrose, and Kurt Busch too, passed Edwards, bumping him to the 4th position. Edwards remained around the 5th and 6th positions for much of the race. He was still battling a tight-handling condition in the No. 99 Ford, but was hanging tough just outside the top 5. On lap 78, Edwards scared the wall with the left-rear quarterpanel coming off turn 7, but managed to not lose any positions and remained in the 5th position. The field got spread out over the last laps, and Edwards never had a chance to challenge for the 4th position. With no pressure from the driver in the 6th position, Edwards held on to the 5th position when the checkered flag waved. The top 5 finish helped Edwards gain a position in the standings, up to 9th.
While practice times and qualifying made it seem that at least two of the Roush Fenway Racing drivers would contend for the win, they just didn’t have what it took to keep up with Juan Pablo Montoya who had the dominant car all race long. Montoya never looked back as he led the closing laps on Sunday. The win was Montoya’s 2nd win on a road course. It was also the first win for Montoya’s crew chief Brian Pattie. Congratulations to Juan Pablo Montoya and the No. 42 team on their victory!
Next up: Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway
Just a little sidenote: As far as I know, Jack Roush is still at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I haven’t heard anything different or been told otherwise. On that note, many positive thoughts and well wishes to Jack! And as the decals on the RFR Fords said last week, "Get back to the track, Jack!" Hopefully he'll be back soon!