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By The Sports Xchange August 7, 2013 1:51 PM
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson is in first place for the 16th straight week after Pocono. He increased what was his largest lead of the season heading into Pocono (75 points) to 77 points afterward over second-ranked Clint Bowyer and 84 points over third-ranked Carl Edwards. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2007 and 2012. Finished third in this race last year and 10th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Hard as it may seem to believe, Johnson has never won (or even finished second) at Watkins Glen, one of five tracks that he never has taken a Cup checkered flag at (others are Chicago, Homestead, Kentucky and Michigan). But given the outstanding season he's had to date, don't be surprised if he snaps that mark this Sunday. Here's Johnson's thoughts on the race: "I have knocked on the door a little bit and I've been a top-five, top-three guy there. I just have never been the heat there. I've never been the dominant car. I hope to change that. I really enjoy the racetrack. If we can run in the top-five like we seem to do there, that will be a nice day for the points, but I'm itching to have that dominant car and get up there and race with Juan (Pablo Montoya) and the No. 9 (Marcos Ambrose) and, hopefully, have a shot at winning that thing." LOOKING BACK: Johnson had a dominant car early at Pocono, eventually leading 43 of the race's 160 laps, but his car faded in the closing laps, ultimately finishing 13th. ETC.: Johnson has completed 93.3 percent (927) of the 994 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start there is an outstanding 6.2, but his average finish is only 13.2. He has one DNF there. 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in second place for the fourth consecutive week after Pocono. His margin behind series leader Jimmie Johnson is now 77 points, while his lead over third-ranked Carl Edwards is now seven points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2012. Was a career-best fourth in this race last year and finished 11th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Watkins Glen has been a mixed bag of results for Bowyer. While he has finished ninth, 32nd, 11th and fourth in his last four races there - which shows significant improvement over his first three outings there (14th, 16th and 23rd) - he still doesn't come close to the kind of record he has at the other road course on the Sprint Cup circuit, namely Sonoma, where in eight starts he has one win, five top-five and six top-10s. Here's Bowyer's thoughts on Sunday's race at The Glen: "I used to hate going to Watkins Glen, but with the team I'm with now, I love going there. ... Watkins Glen has always been a track where I struggle to get speed right off the truck, but by the end of the weekend we were in the top-five last time. Hopefully we can continue to improve on that. We were fast at Sonoma and I think we're going to be fast again this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Bowyer fought an ill-handling car for much of the race at Pocono. He was never really much of a threat, eventually finishing 14th. ETC.: Even though his overall record doesn't show great success, Bowyer still has managed to complete a near-perfect 99.8 percent (631) of the 632 total laps contested in seven career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 19.4 and average finish is 15.6. He has zero DNFs there. 99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third place for the fourth consecutive week after Pocono. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 84 points, is seven points behind second-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by 13 points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2009. Was 14 in this race last year and finished 12th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has become quite the road course racer at Watkins Glen, but he's still looking for his first career win there. Might it be this Sunday? Here's his thoughts: "I feel good about Watkins Glen. We sat on the pole there a few years ago, won the Nationwide race last year and had good runs and almost won the Cup race a couple years ago. I like that racetrack and the area. It's a really fun race and it would be big to put Kellogg's in victory lane. The President, Michael Printup said it would rain Cheez-its if we win." LOOKING BACK: Edwards never had a car that could challenge at Pocono. While he knocked on the door of the top-10, he ultimately finished 11th in the race. ETC.: Edwards has completed an outstanding 100 percent (724) of the 724 total laps contested in eight career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 12.5 and average finish is an impressive 9.4. He has zero DNFs there. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the seventh straight week after Pocono. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 97 points, is 13 points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 19 points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 wins, 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2006. Was 15th in this race last year and sixth in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is one of the better road course racers, but he has found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in several recent races at Watkins Glen. He needs a strong run there Sunday to further enhance his eventual seeding in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A second career win at The Glen would go a long way towards achieving that. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "The road-course races have been pretty exciting over the past couple of years. Last year's race at Watkins Glen had a pretty exciting finish from what I remember, and it's this type of racing that has really become a part of our sport and helps keep things exciting to watch." LOOKING BACK: Harvick had his second mediocre finish in a row, winding up 17th at Pocono after winding up 19th the week before at Indianapolis. ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.4 percent (1,056) of the 1,084 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 13.2 and average finish is 13.1. He has zero DNFs there. 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in fifth place for the fourth consecutive week after Pocono. He trails teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson by 116 points (eight fewer than last week), is 19 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by 10 points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2003. Finished 28th in this race last year and was 15th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: It's odd that Earnhardt used to do very well at Watkins Glen when he was with Dale Earnhardt Inc. (40th, 12th, 35th, third, fifth, 10th, 18th and 42nd), but since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt has had finishes of 22nd, 39th, 26th, 15th and 28th. What's happened? Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "At Watkins Glen, we've got long straightaways and then a 90-degree corner, then a straightaway and another corner. If you make a mistake in a corner, you still can reset the car and get everything figured out to make something out of the rest of the lap. Even sometimes you can do well enough to make up for your mistake and still put down a good time. It is fast there. The tough part is in the chicane and through the carousel. I don't know if I go through that thing the same way twice, but you try to go through it as fast as you can." LOOKING BACK: After a sixth-place finish at Indianapolis the week before, Earnhardt came back with a fifth-place showing this past Sunday at Pocono. He also led two laps in that event. ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.0 percent (1,080) of the 1,174 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 17.5, while his average finish is a very mediocre 22.7. He has two DNFs there. 18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping one spot following Indianapolis, Kyle Busch regained that lost position and climbed back into sixth after Pocono. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 126 points, is 10 points behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads seventh-ranked Matt Kenseth by eight points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 8 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished seventh in this race last year (started from the outside pole) and was third (including winning the pole) in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is about as close to a sure bet of a driver finishing in the top-10 at Watkins Glen as there is. Since finishing 33rd in his first race there in 2005, he has never finished any lower than ninth (2006). Road courses were an oddity to Busch when he came to NASCAR racing a decade ago, but he's certainly become quite proficient on them since. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you've got to pick and choose when you're going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops I'm unsure of because Sonoma turned into a three-stop race for us all because the new fuel mileage is a little bit off from where we were last year. At Watkins Glen, though, you definitely have to be good at being able to carry speed, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part of the racetrack." LOOKING BACK: While it looked for a while this past Sunday at Pocono that Busch would end up with a top-five finish and potentially challenge for the lead, he faded in the closing laps to an eventual eighth-place finish. ETC.: Busch has completed a perfect 100 percent (724) of the 724 total laps contested in eight career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is an outstanding 7.4, while his average finish is just as outstanding at 9.0. He has zero DNFs there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: After three weeks of being in sixth place (including one week of a tie with Kyle Busch), Matt Kenseth slipped to seventh after this past Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 134 points, is eight points behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Kasey Kahne by 26 points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in 2003 and again in 2012. Finished eighth in this race last year and was 14th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Let's face it, Kenseth never has been and likely never will be a standout road course racer. He's average, at best. Don't expect much more than maybe a 10th- to 15th-place finish Sunday. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I hope we'll be a little bit better at Watkins Glen. I'm not sure about Denny (Hamlin), but I know Kyle (Busch) was in position to win that thing last year before the track got all oiled up. He always runs really well there so I'm hoping it will be okay." LOOKING BACK: Kenseth just could never get things going at Pocono. While he did lead a lap during a caution period, his car was just not up to the task of challenging for a top-five or even a top-10, ultimately finishing with a disappointing 22nd-place showing. ETC.: Even though his overall record is less than stellar, Kenseth has completed an outstanding 99.9 percent (1,173) of the 1,174 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 19.4 and average finish is 15.0. He has zero DNFs there. 5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing two spots to 10th in the points standings after New Hampshire, Kasey Kahne moved up two more spots to eighth after winning this past Sunday at Pocono. Yet, even with the victory, Kahne still trails teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson by 160 points (up from 176 points prior to Pocono), is 26 points behind seventh-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads ninth-ranked Jeff Gordon by 10 points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 13th in 2012. Finished a career-best 13th in this race last year and was 26th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: There's no ifs, ands or buts about it, Watkins Glen is without question Kahne's worst racetrack. He has at least a win or top-five or top-10 at every other track on the circuit, but not at the twisting road course in upstate New York. Still, buoyed by his win at Pocono on Sunday, Kahne is hoping to carryover some of the momentum and maybe finally earn the first top-10 finish of his career at Watkins Glen. Kahne talked about how he hopes confidence from his Pocono win will carry over to Watkins Glen: "It gives myself confidence and gives the whole team confidence, Kenny (crew chief Kenny Francis) and the pit crew guys and everybody that's part of it. It closes the gap. If we finish in the top 10 and get into the Chase, it will be closer to Matt and Jimmie who already have four wins. So I think wins are key, for sure." LOOKING BACK: After finishing third the week before at Indianapolis, Kahne had another outstanding day at Pocono, dominating the event by leading 66 of the race's 160 laps en route to his second win of the season. ETC.: Even with his miserable finishing record at Watkins Glen, Kahne still has completed a perfect 100 percent (814) of the 814 total laps contested in nine starts there. His average start is 17.2, while his average finish is 18.4. He has zero DNFs there. 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing back into the top-10 after Indianapolis, Jeff Gordon climbed up one more spot in the standings to ninth after Pocono. He trails teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson by 170 points (down from 181 the week before), is 10 points behind teammate and eighth-ranked Kasey Kahne and leads 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by a mere three points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 20 career starts, 4 wins, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s and 2 poles. Best career finish: First in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Finished 21st in this race last year and was 13th in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Although he's struggled in several recent races there, Gordon is still a threat to win at Watkins Glen, a place where he won four of five races from 1997 through 2001. With just five races left, he needs a strong finish Sunday to further enhance his chances to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I expect it to be an exciting race, especially the restarts. Like we've seen recently on the road courses, the double-file restarts should be wild and crazy. The new Chevy SS has a lot of downforce and drag which helps you get into the braking zones, so I expect the lap times to be quicker here this weekend compared to years past. But the faster you're going, the more 'on edge' you are with the car and the tires." LOOKING BACK: Gordon almost had a great 42nd birthday on Sunday, coming close to winning before ultimately finishing second behind teammate Kasey Kahne. ETC.: Gordon has completed 96.9 percent (1,748) of the 1,804 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is an outstanding 9.4, while his average finish there is 14.8. He also has three DNFs there. 16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle dropped two places in the standings after Pocono. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 173 points, is three points behind ninth-ranked Jeff Gordon and leads 11th-ranked Tony Stewart by five points. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fifth in 2009. Finished sixth in this race last year and was 31st in the 2011 race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle could ill afford to lose two spots in the standings at Pocono. Now in 10th-place, he's on the bubble of making - or potentially not making - the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Although he's never really stood out at Watkins Glen, he has to have just one gameplan going into Sunday's race: a top-five to hopefully guarantee him remaining in the top-10. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I like road course racing. It breaks up the season a little. This is the same car we had a good run at Sonoma with and we've had a couple of top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen in the past so I think it's reasonable to shoot for a top-10 finish this weekend." LOOKING BACK: After a 24th-place finish at Indianapolis, Biffle bounced back with a decent run at Pocono, finishing 10th. ETC.: Biffle has completed 95.2 percent (861) of the 904 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Watkins Glen. His average start is 14.8 and average finish is a mediocre 23.8. He has one DNF there. 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only five points out of the top 10. Stands first in the wild card standings with one win. Of course, all of this was before he broke two bones in his right leg after crashing Monday night at Southern Iowa Speedway. Stewart will be sidelined for a while as he faces a potential third procedure. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Stewart has more wins - five - than anyone. LOOKING AHEAD: Max Papis has been named the interim driver for the 14 team for Watkins Glen. Papis has made 35 Cup starts with a career-best finish of eighth in 2009 at the Glen. Papis tested for the team on July 30 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. He is a three-time Indy Car race winner and a seven-time winner in the Rolex Sports Car Series including a Daytona Prototype victory at Watkins Glen in 2004. Papis, 43, is from Como, Italy, but lives in Mooresville, NC with his wife, Taliana and his two sons. LOOKING BACK: Stewart rallied from an early-race pit-road speeding penalty to finish ninth at Pocono. "We got here today thanks to good strategy by the crew chief (Steve Addington) because the driver screwed up today," said Stewart. "I put us in the back, but Steve's pretty keen on the pit strategy and what to do to get us back up there. It was a long day, but a solid day. I was just a little too tight at the end." ETC.: Stewart, who has started 521 consecutive Cup races, was leading the 30-lap sprint car race - the main event -- at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa when a lapped car spun in front of him. Stewart slammed into Josh Higday's car and started flipping. He suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg. The surgery served as a preliminary procedure to stabilize and clean the Grade 2 injury. A second surgery will be necessary. This is Stewart's third sprint car wreck in as many weeks. He escaped injury in the first two. The normal recovery period for an injury of this nature is four to eight weeks. If Stewart is sidelined for that long, he will not make the Chase. 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only seven points out of the top 10. Gained one spot in the standings. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Has finished second in last two races. LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said he is "looking forward to going back" to Watkins Glen. "We have a great package with the 2 team for the Glen," adds Keselowski. "The 2 car has finished second there the last three years in a row with Kurt (Busch) the first year and then me twice. Hopefully, we can find that extra spot. I would like to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard (at Indianapolis) but a road course win would be big for me because I won on the other genres of tracks and it would make me feel more complete." LOOKING BACK: After battling Kasey Kahne for the lead and leading five times for 14 laps, Keselowski was "frustrated" with his sixth-place finish at Pocono. "We felt good with our pit strategy then two straight yellows within a short period of time killed our strategy," said Keselowski. "It put us behind and we couldn't recover. We were close to the 5 (Kahne) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon), but they were probably a tad faster. Damn, we were just a little bit short." ETC.: Crew chief Paul Wolfe believes once the team gets its first win of the season things will start to explode. "A win is big and if you look at our past two years, it seemed like once we got that first win it feels like you can breathe easier and things kind of just flow," said Wolfe. "The start of this season it looked like that was going to come pretty quick. We really started so strong and had those top-five finishes and were contending for wins right out of the gate. But then we kind of went through that part of the season leading up to the summer here where we have just been so hit and miss and haven't been where we need to be. It is frustrating. We know we need to get that win." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 11 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 12 starts including a second in the 2010 event. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Watkins Glen is a fast road course that has been tough on me over the years. It's also a race that fits into a gambling scenario instead of a speed race. It's the stage of the season you don't want to gamble on fuel because you need a good run to make the Chase. We used one of our NASCAR tests at Watkins Glen and I am glad we did. I feel very confident heading back there - not to just have good speed in qualifying but to have speed throughout the race." LOOKING BACK: Busch was all smiles after finishing third at Pocono. "It was a championship-effort type of day," said Busch, who turned 35 on Sunday. "We ran up front and put ourselves in position to win. It's exciting for us because we are in this mix of trying to race our way into the Chase. We executed really well today with pit strategy. The way we made changes to the car, it just seems like the team is flowing really well, and I'm excited about this portion of the season." ETC.: With only 37 points separating eighth from 15th place in the standings, Busch knows "there's a number of teams within striking distance of making the Chase. It's very competitive out there and you have to do it with top-five finishes like Pocono. No one is going to back into the Chase. You're going to have to earn it." 56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 15 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week. Stands second in the wild card standings with one win. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will be shooting for his third straight top-10 finish. Has four top-10 finishes in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said the team is "taking the same car that raced Sonoma to Watkins Glen. Obviously, I feel very confident going there. After what we did at Sonoma (win), we're definitely really looking forward to going to Watkins Glen. The same guys that are always tough there are going to be really, really tough (Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya). I feel we'll match up well with them." LOOKING BACK: Truex finished 15th at Pocono. "I was driving as hard as I could and we just couldn't go anywhere," said Truex. "When we started, we were terrible, but Chad (Johnson, crew chief) made good calls on the adjustments. The pit crew did a great job. Our last run was by far, our best run all day. We'll take that finish and head to my favorite road course, Watkins Glen." ETC.: Truex admits he would "rather not be in the wild card position. We certainly want to get back up into the top 10 and hopefully get another win. I'd rather have two wins going in to start the Chase. We're going to work hard to try to make that happen. We've got some great tracks coming up for us. Obviously, Watkins Glen. Atlanta is coming up. It's one of my favorites. We definitely got some places where we could run well. Bristol has been good to us." 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 24 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. Stands third in the wild card standings with one win. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 11 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "The key to the Glen is being able to get through the carousel, to carry enough speed getting through the long sweeping corner and coming out of it to get a good run coming off the back chute. The carousel, turn one and getting through the esses are very important. It's a place where you have to be consistent." LOOKING BACK: Newman finished fourth at Pocono. "It was a good run for our Haas Automation Chevrolet, but not as good as it could have been," said Newman. "We struggled in the pits today. We raced a lot of guys around us in points, guys that all have the same sense of urgency that we do to score a win, or another win, in my case. Just a bad day on pit road for us. We'll have to get that figured out." ETC.: While many people felt the win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would secure Newman a ride for 2014, he is still unsure about his future. "The win helps, but it's not a light switch," said Newman. "It doesn't turn everything on bright. It helps and gives you a vision, but there is more to it than that. I am in a situation where the phone has not rung off the hook with sponsors, or car owners, or manufacturers, or any of that. I didn't expect it to. I am working on what I need to work on to be in a competitive position next year." 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 33 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 10 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said he is "optimistic about heading to Watkins Glen this weekend. We had a really good car at Sonoma. We were able to win the pole and run near the front most of the day. This will be a critical weekend for our team as we get down to the last few races to make the cut for the Chase. We need to have a good weekend." LOOKING BACK: McMurray was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop early in the race because of a piece of debris on his grill had sent his water temperatures soaring. Ironically, the debris came from teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was involved in a first-lap accident. "That stop got us out of sequence and we had to play catch-up all day," said McMurray. "Our guys had really good stops on pit road today and we were able to bring home a 16th-place finish." ETC.: With only five races left to determine the 12 drivers that will make up this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, McMurray realizes "we have a lot of ground to make up in a short period of time. We can do it, but we can't afford any mistakes. There are a lot of teams with still a good shot at it. It is all going to depend on who runs the best in these five races." 22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 38 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: One top-five finish in four starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Logano still believes the team has enough races left for it to climb back into the top 10 and make the Chase. "If we didn't have those flat tires (at Daytona and Loudon), we would be in the top 10 and I would feel pretty comfortable about our Chase hopes," said Logano. "We still are on that borderline where we can't make mistakes or have problems or we are out of it. We just have to keep our heads in the game and keep trying to make up points." LOOKING BACK: Logano finished seventh for his second straight top-10 finish to keep alive his hopes of making the Chase. "The cautions hurt our strategy, but then at the same time the cautions at the end helped us make up what we lost," said Logano. "We were a lot better than where we finished. Seventh isn't bad, but I thought we were a top-three car today and have been the last few weeks." ETC.: Logano feels he has made a lot of improvement in recent years in his bid to become a really good road racer. "I think it just helps to get laps," said Logano. "Now I've got a lot more experience, done a lot of testing and run pretty well in the last few Sprint Cup races on road courses. I don't feel like I'm the best out there, but I feel like I'm pretty good and getting better each time I go out there. I think a win is just around the corner." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 45 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Finished 18th a year ago for his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "You can't compare Watkins Glen and Sonoma (the two road courses) at all. Sonoma is like the Martinsville of road courses, and then when you go to Watkins Glen, it's like Charlotte. It's just so much faster. The speed that we carry at Watkins Glen is unbelievable. It's a fun road course. It's just extremely fast." LOOKING BACK: A flat left-rear tire sent Almirola spinning on lap 102 of the scheduled 160-lap event. After clipping the wall, Almirola limped back to the pits with left-rear damage to his Ford. After losing a lap while repairs were made to his car, Almirola rallied in the final 55 laps to finish 20th at Pocono. "We were posting times as fast as the leaders, then we had a tire go down," said a frustrated Almirola. "Unfortunately, we had a good car get away from us and we lost ground in the standings." ETC.: Almirola said he enjoys road racing. "I just wish I was better at it," adds Almirola. "The more I learn from Marcos (Ambrose, his teammate), the more I enjoy it. I'm really looking forward to seeing the difference from last year. My goal is to learn as much as I can, stay on the track and beat my best finish there." 27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 67 points out of the top 10. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: His 12th-place finish a year ago is his best finish in nine starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "I really enjoy road-course racing and I wish we had more than two road-course races on our schedule. We've had fast cars at Watkins Glen, we just haven't had the finishes to show it. Watkins Glen is fun because you can pass anywhere. The best places to pass are going into turn one and coming to turn six. If you can out-brake the car in front of you, you have a good opportunity to make some passes." LOOKING BACK: Menard was involved in a late-race accident that severely damaged his hopes of making the Chase as he finished 32nd at Pocono. "Our Tarkett/Menards Chevrolet was pretty good today," said Menard. "We just got caught up in someone else's mess. We were off sequence from the majority of the field and got caught back in the pack. It's unfortunate our day ended the way it did. We had a shot at a decent finish." ETC.: Menard is a big fan of road racing "because we get to shift and make both left and right turns. It's nice to change things up every once in a while. The bus stop can be one of the most exciting parts of the track (at Watkins Glen). If you go in there running two-wide, it gets pretty crazy. It is probably the toughest spot on the track to pass someone because if they don't let you go in single file, and you drive through two-wide, you're going to make contact at some point." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 92 points out of the top 10. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Has finished ninth in two of the last three races. Finished second in the 2001 event. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton is another driver that enjoys road racing. "The fun thing about it is that it gives us something different to do," said Burton. "We run so many different styles of race tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, everything from half-miles to superspeedways. Road courses are just another different style of track and that's what makes our sport fun." LOOKING BACK: Burton slammed his hand into the roof of his Chevrolet as he climbed out of the battered car. His frustration was quite evident. "I seriously feel like we had a seventh to tenth-place car today," said Burton. "Getting in that wreck is just kind of how our year has gone. I didn't see the cars wrecking in front of me until I got there. By that time, it was too late." ETC.: Burton calls Watkins Glen "a superspeedway road course. There are fast and slow corners, but it has these long straightaways and you make up a lot of distance on those straights. It's more handling over horsepower and braking is also very important. There are more opportunities to pass at Watkins Glen compared to Sonoma (the other road course on the schedule). They are two pretty different race tracks." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 94 points out of the top 10, only two points out of the top 20. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished fourth in last year's Nationwide race. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse points out "last year in the Nationwide Series, we had a strong fourth-place finish, but I know it will be completely different in the Cup car. Friday, we will just log laps because seat time is valuable. After the past couple of weeks, I think if we can leave Watkins Glen with a top-20 finish it would be considered a success for the 17 team." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse's hopes of a good day ended on lap one when he and Juan Pablo Montoya tangled as they raced into turn one. Stenhouse's car was severely damaged and he was forced to spend considerable time in the garage area while the crew repaired the car. He returned to the race to finish 34th. "I thought our Fusion was good in practice on Friday, but we won't get a chance to see how good it was," said Stenhouse. "He (Montoya) just ran in there and drove right into us." ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves agrees with his driver that "we will focus on running as many laps as we can on Friday. Since Ricky hasn't logged any laps in a Cup car at Watkins Glen, he will need as much seat time as possible. I think if we play the right strategy and stay on the course that we can get a top-20 in our Best Buy Ford. We need to just finish after the last couple of weeks." 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 99 points out of the top 10, only seven points out of the top 20. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight victory. Has not finished worse than third in five starts. Also won three straight Nationwide Series races. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Obviously, we feel like we are contenders each time we go to Watkins Glen, and this weekend is no different. I just know what I want in the car, and we have been fortunate enough to get that feel in our Stanley Ford Fusion the past two races. That allows me to race up front, and I have a lot of confidence. Watkins Glen is a really fast track, and I really enjoy it. I know what I need to do to be there at the end." LOOKING BACK: Ambrose rallied in the final 10 laps to finish 12th at Pocono. "We had a pretty good end of the day for our Stanley Ford," said Ambrose. "We were frustrated in the middle of the race, but Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) did a nice job with adjustments. I felt a loose wheel at the end, and we came down to get four tires. We gave up a little bit of track position, but the tires really helped us to get to 12th at the end. That was a good call, and I'm proud of our Stanley team for staying tough all day." ETC.: Ambrose admits, "We have had a tough season this year, but this race (Watkins Glen) can very quickly turn it around and put us in contention for a wild-card berth in the Chase. That's what our goal is right now. We haven't given up, and this entire crew keeps fighting hard. Hopefully, we can continue our streak at Watkins Glen this weekend." 42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 123 points out of the top 10, 31 points out of the top 20. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: One win and four top-seven finishes in six starts. Won the pole a year ago, but was involved in an accident and finished 33rd. LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya thinks "this weekend for us is really, really important. I think we've got a lot of really good tracks coming up for us that we've been very close to winning. We feel really good about this weekend. We feel our car is going to be really, really strong. I feel we had one of the best cars at Sonoma, and if you look at my performances in Sonoma compared to the Glen, we run much better at the Glen." LOOKING BACK: After a good practice session on Friday - the two scheduled sessions on Saturday were rained out, Montoya had high hopes for the weekend. But they ended on the very first lap of the race when he was involved in a multi-car accident. As a result, he ended up 28th. ETC.: Montoya believes he should be a lot higher in the standings. "We know we have thrown away a lot points," said Montoya. "We ran out of gas with one lap to go at Sonoma, for example, running second. We converted a second-place finish into a 36t-place finish. Like last week, I made a mistake. We've had loose tires. We had a gearbox fail. Everything freak that could happen has been happening. But we know if we go to the Glen and get a win, we've got a real shot (at making the Chase)." 11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 210 points out of the top 10. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Four top-10 finishes including a second in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin said the team is "kind of outside of our normal box of setups. We're trying to get better for next year, but obviously we need some track time to do that. We've just got to work on our setups. I think me and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) just got to get our setups where it's drivable again. Lately it's just not been good. It's been a handful. We've been qualifying okay, but as soon as we get in traffic and the race starts we go dead backwards and get extremely loose. We've been fighting that a lot." LOOKING BACK: It was another very frustrating afternoon for Hamlin, who crashed on lap 14 of the 160-lap event. As a result, he finished 43rd (last). "Our car was a handful," said Hamlin. "I tried to fight through it until that competition caution (scheduled for lap 20), but I was getting run over from behind and just holding up traffic. I just let off in the corner and it just breaks loose. It's what we've been fighting really the last seven weeks or so - just cannot get into the corner with our cars. It was a handful - I mean a handful." ETC.: Hamlin became quite upset with comments made by Kyle Petty last Sunday morning on Speed. "He said I thought I was the face of JGR," said Hamlin. "What I was saying I was the face of FedEx Racing and the 11 team. I think I've earned that right. I've won enough races. I got here on hard work and winning. I didn't get here like we got here (with his father's help). My frustration is that Kyle has never showed his face in the garage area in 10 years. My feel with Kyle is that he has a lot of opinions about a lot of drivers, but he's never once talked to any of us. To be an analyst, you've got to be in the trenches finding out the stories." 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 29th, 238 points out of the top 10. The team stands 14th in the car owner standings, only 15 points out of the top 10. WATKINS GLEN RECORD: Martin will skip the road race with Brian Vickers driving the 55 car. Vickers has one top-10 finish in eight starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers said, "It's going to be another fierce battle on a road course (this weekend). I think road course racing in NASCAR has turned out to be some of the best racing we have, and I enjoy it. The races in both series are almost like short-track racing because the competition is so tight. They are just really fun races - I have grown to love road course racing. I look forward to running both races at the Glen this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Martin finished 18th at Pocono despite having brake issues all afternoon. "We made big gains from last week (at Indy) and from Friday," said Martin. "I'm real proud of everybody here to come up with what they did. The car was pretty good. It was capable of doing better than that if things would've been right. We just had some brakes problems that hurt us." ETC.: Watkins Glen will be Vickers' first Sprint Cup start since his surprising victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month. "I can't wait to get back in the 55 car," said Vickers. "I know I am going to have another good race car. MWR has had some of the best road course cars out there the last couple of years. So I have high hopes for this weekend."