NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series can be divided into three distinctly different types of racing: intermediate and short-track racing venues; super speedways like Daytona and Talledega, otherwise known as restrictor-plate racing; and road-course racing. Most of the Sprint Cup schedule falls into the first category. Only four out of 36 Cup races (including the 10-race chase for the Cup at season's end) fall into the latter two types of racing layouts.
Watkins Glen International, located just north of Pennsylvania in the middle of New York State and where the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races are being held this weekend, is one of only two road courses that NASCAR drivers have to negotiate every season. The other is Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Although both are road courses in the motorsports vernacular, they are very different in the way the drivers need to attack them.
Infineon has several more turns over its 1.99 mile layout and, according to several current NASCAR drivers, has almost a short-track feel to it. It's not at all unusual for cars to beat and bang each other, they say, and the cars are fighting constantly for track position. Watkins Glen, on the other hand, is longer, at 2.45 miles, and features more wide-open racing with longer straightaways, which call for more speed.
"As a driver, you've got to be very comfortable with downshifts," four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon said this week in describing what the racing is like at The Glen, as it's called. "You've got to be comfortable with turning right and really being able to push the car very aggressively," he said. "This track is a lot different than Sonoma. It's a fast race track. Sonoma is much more of a finesse track, and it's much more about not going off-track and not over-attacking the corners. It's exactly the opposite (of Watkins Glen."
Juan Pablo Montoya's only two wins in NASCAR's top level of racing, the Sprint Cup Series, are on road courses. He won at Infineon in 2007 and at Watkins Glen last year. "It flows a little more," the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi said about the track layout at Watkins Glen. "The corners are a little faster. Eighty percent of Sonoma, you are in first or second gear, and it is short gears," he said.
Gordon said he thinks NASCAR's two road-course races have become more popular with the fans with the introduction of double-file restarts. "when you have double-file restarts in the late stages of a race, it definitely presents opportunity for a lot more bumping and aggressive moves," Gordon said.
Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing is on the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen. A.J. Allmendinger is next to him on the front row.