Race Weekend Central

Watkins Glen Practice Wrap-Up

by Phil Allaway

Kyle Busch Leads Opening Cup Practice, Ambrose blows away Field in Happy Hour

Friday afternoon was nothing but practice for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen. Sprint Cup teams had just over three hours of practice, split into two sessions while the Nationwide Series had one two hour session.

In the first Sprint Cup session, Kyle Busch led the way with a lap of 70.242 seconds, or 125.566 mph. This lap is a half a second faster than the track record, held by Jeff Gordon. This lap was just five thousandths of a second faster than Juan Pablo Montoya and less than two hundredths of a second faster than AJ Allmendinger in third.

Unfortunately, the session was plagued by a series of spins. Tony Stewart, a five-time winner at Watkins Glen, spun out twice on his own. The first incident saw Stewart spin off the road in the Inner Loop. The second saw Stewart simply enter Turn 9 too fast, get out of the groove, and spin. Stewart’s Office Depot Chevrolet came to rest in the middle of the track, undamaged.

Also, early on in the session, Casey Mears lost an engine in his GEICO Toyota. Mears’ No. 13 laid down a significant amount of fluid on track along with a large plume of smoke before coming to rest right before the entrance of Turn 1. With the engine change, Mears will have to start from the rear of the field on Sunday.

In the second practice session, the teams couldn’t even get up to speed before the first incident of the session. Robby Gordon locked up his brakes in Turn 9 on his out lap. As a result, Matt Kenseth had nowhere to go and ran into the back of Robby Gordon’s No. 7 before spinning and kicking up some dirt onto the track. David Ragan also spun in the Inner Loop later in the session, but continued without incident. Finally, towards the end of the session, Brian Simo spun exiting Turn 1 and hit the Armco barrier. Simo’s No. 46, sporting new sponsorship from Fisher Nuts, suffered left rear damage in the crash. The team is attempting to repair the damage.

Marcos Ambrose had the car to beat in the session, laying down a lap of 69.666 seconds (126.604 mph), a full second faster than the official track record. Ambrose’s lap led points leader Carl Edwards to describe Ambrose as “screaming fast” in a press conference. Ambrose’s lap was four and a half tenths of a second faster than Kurt Busch in second. Carl Edwards turned the third fastest lap, followed by Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr.

Of those who must qualify on speed, Scott Speed was fastest (14th overall), while Robby Gordon was 18th overall and J.J. Yeley was 22nd.

Menard Sets Quickest Time in Nationwide Practice

In the Nationwide Series’ lone two-hour practice session, incidents on track were once again the name of the game. Before ten minutes even passed, Brian Scott and Trevor Bayne had each spun out in Turn 9. Points leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. spun on his own in Turn 1 later on, but was able to continue easily. Finally, Alex Kennedy had his own spin exiting Turn 9. None of these spins resulted in wall contact.

On the charts, road course ringers and Sprint Cup regulars ruled the roost. Paul Menard, driving the No. 33 for Kevin Harvick, Inc. this week, topped the charts with a lap of 72.227 seconds (122.115 mph). That was almost two tenths of a second quicker than Elliott Sadler in second. Jimmie Johnson, making his first start since Charlotte in October, 2008, was third quickest, followed by Kurt Busch (subbing for teammate Brad Keselowski) and Ron Fellows.

Only three of the ten fastest cars (Sadler, along with Jason Leffler in eighth and Aric Almirola in tenth) were driven by Nationwide Series regulars. Of the teams that must qualify on time, Fellows in the No. 5 Canadian Tire Chevrolet, a third entry for JR Motorsports, was fastest with a lap of 72.816 seconds (121.127 mph). Joey Logano was the second fastest driver (ninth overall), while Bayne had the third fastest time of those not locked into the field. The drivers who need to find a little speed before qualifying are Tomy Drissi, Brian Simo, Chase Miller, Tim Andrews and Brian Keselowski. These five drivers were the slowest drivers in practice that are not locked into the field for today’s race.

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