While we run two road course races a year, first at Sonoma and now this weekend at Watkins Glen, the truth of the matter is the only thing these two tracks have in common is they are road course tracks. They honestly couldn't be any different.
Sonoma is more of a technical and finesse type of track. Watkins Glen, meanwhile, especially now that it has been repaved, is going to be a matter of who can manhandle those seven turns plus the inner-loop. I think brakes could be a story this weekend here.
Don't get me wrong, you were using a lot of brake there before, but now with the repave the speeds are going to be even greater. Also don't forget that they'll be racing there for the first time with this low downforce package, which means the straightway speeds will be greater.
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So possible brake issues might catch some teams off-guard this weekend. Obviously it already caught No. 2 driver Brad Keselowski off-guard during a test, when he destroyed his Ford. Thankfully, Brad was OK.
Watkins Glen is the birthplace of strategy when it comes to road course racing. Back in 1996, driver Geoff Bodine and crew chief Paul Andrews caught all of us with our britches down around out toenails with the strategy they pulled of basically running the race backwards.
In refection, it was pretty simple to do. It's a 90 lap race. The fuel window is 30 laps, so if you pit at lap 30 and again at lap 60, then you are good to go till the end. Now, where it becomes more of a game is if you think you can stretch your fuel mileage to 32 or 33 laps then, at somewhere around lap 56 or 57, you are diving on pit road for presumably your last pit stop of the day.
You hear me say this when we go road course racing, but when I was a crew chief you could count on one hand who the winner was probably going to be and still have a couple fingers left. Back then when we got to a road course, everyone knew who the players were going to be.
That was then, but this is 2016 and it's just as hard to pick a winner on the road course is it is at Michigan, Pocono, Daytona, Talladega or anywhere else. The drivers and teams have stepped it up, plus the cars have gotten better. The last 10 races at Watkins Glen has given us eight different winners.
Probably the neatest story to me is the fact that Jeff Gordon is subbing in the No. 88 again, and this is probably his and Tony Stewart's last race ever at Watkins Glen. We are talking about NASCAR's two best road course racers ever. Tony has five wins there with Jeff right behind him with four.
From 1997 to 2009, which is a span of 13 races at Watkins Glen, Tony and Jeff won nine of those 13. And the last time we were at a road course, at Sonoma back in June, Mr. Stewart went to Victory Lane. How cool would be to see Tony or Jeff win one last time at Watkins Glen?