The Sprint Cup Series will run its second and final road course race of the season this weekend at Watkins Glen International in Upstate N.Y. The series competed at the Sonoma, Calif. course in June, with Clint Bowyer winning that event.
Australian Marcos Ambrose claimed his first Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen last year, a race delayed one day due to rain. Ambrose passed Brad Keselowski for the lead during a green-white-checkered finish and then held it for his maiden victory in his 105th start in NASCAR's top series.
Prior to his win, Ambrose had finished either second or third in his three Sprint Cup races at this 2.45-mile, 11-turn course. He also won three consecutive Nationwide races there from 2008-10.
"Watkins Glen is one of my favorite racetracks, and it's definitely been good to me in the past," Ambrose said. "It will always have a special place in my heart, because it's where I got my first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. It's a track that suits my driving style, and I have a lot of success there in both the Nationwide and Cup Series. I have a lot of good memories from our win there last year, and I'm hopeful we can go out and win No. 2 this weekend."
Ambrose's 2011 win at Watkins Glen gave him redemption on the Sprint Cup road courses after victory lane evaded him in previous races. In the 2010 race at Sonoma, he lost the lead after turning his engine off and then stalling on the track while he was trying to conserve fuel during a caution with just seven laps to go. He finished sixth in that event.
Right now, Ambrose is 18th in the point standings. He is also eighth in the wild card rankings. A win at Watkins Glen could put Ambrose in the middle of this year's hotly contested battle for the two wild card spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"My team has worked extremely hard the last few weeks, and it would be a good shot of momentum for the second half of the season if we could pull off a win this weekend," said Ambrose, who is currently 126 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer.
With five races to go before the Chase begins, Kasey Kahne holds the first wild card position by virtue of his two wins (Charlotte and New Hampshire), while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, occupies the final wild card spot after collecting his first victory of the season in last Sunday's rain-shortened race at Pocono.
Gordon is a four-time race winner at Watkins Glen, including three victories in a row there from 1997-99, but he has finished no better than ninth in his last 10 races there.
"The first thing we have to do is have a good-performing car," Gordon said. "We've had that obviously a lot this year. I'll be honest. In the past few years, we have not had that at Watkins Glen. We sort of lost that edge and great performance that we've had in the past when we were winning there at Watkins Glen. We kind of lost that.
"I'm really optimistic, because I feel like we made some great gains at Sonoma this year and had a nice finish there. We qualified good there as well. Sonoma and Watkins Glen are different, but we feel like the test we did at Road Atlanta (in Braselton, Ga.) earlier in the year, the things we're finding to improve the car in performance is going to pay off at Watkins Glen as well."
Tony Stewart holds the record for most wins at Watkins Glen with five. Stewart's most recent victory there came in 2009.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, August 12. Race: Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. Site: Watkins Glen International. Track: 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course. Start time: 1 p.m.(ET). Laps: 90. Miles: 220.5. 2011 Winner: Marcos Ambrose. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.