Track Talk: A Preview of the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen

Riding along on a carousel...

There’s nothing quite like summertime NASCAR racing at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International, a beloved road course that’s crowned an essential “Who’s Who” of stock car winners.  This seven turn road course somewhat behaves like a speedway and short track.  By that, it offers the speedway action of fast straights and short track attitude in which drivers uncommonly trade paint in the corners and definitely during restarts or late race battles for the win.

Just ask Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, and AJ Allmendinger about the past three years about those amazing late race duels for the checkered flag at WGI.  Ambrose, Busch, and Allmendinger all earned their wins in style, with their cars looking more like they’ve been through a hard day’s work at Martinsville or Bristol.  Although Ambrose is back in Australia, Busch and Allmendinger have to be some of the drivers considered for the win in today’s Cheez-It 355 along with the likes of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

For at least 90 laps, it’s bound to be a race that could greatly shake up the Chase Grid.  With today being Round 22 of 36, there’s not many opportunities left for those who are either points racing their way into the postseason or for those who desperately need a win to lock their spot for a shot at the championship.  As seen last year, Allmendinger was able to race his way into the Chase by winning at WGI, applying a lot of pressure on the likes of Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson for those precious last few spots in the title field.

Might the same happen today?  Could Allmendinger repeat or might Casey Mears and his No. 13 team have an ace up their sleeves for a win in the Empire State?  Anything is possible as displayed last weekend at Pocono Raceway when most of the leaders went by the wayside as they ran out of fuel near the finish of the Windows 10 400, allowing Matt Kenseth to take the win with Keselowski and Gordon smiling with a podium finish.

Courtney Clement had to be pretty happy about Pocono as she chose race winner Matt Kenseth last weekend.  As a result, she hosts Trending Topics as the Track Talk panelists of Ashley HobbsAshley HullJessica BusheeJessica Tow, newcomer Katie Copple, and Kim Melton chiming in their thoughts with the weekend’s storylines.  Without further ado, let’s talk some racing right now!

Trending Topics by Courtney Clement

Question 1
Thank goodness for no rain. Mark Martin in 2000 would've enjoyed that!

Thank goodness for no rain. Mark Martin in 2000 would’ve enjoyed that!

Heading into Watkins Glen this weekend, there is rumored to be some rain in the forecast, and good ol’ Dale Junior states that he would love to have the chance to drive in the rain. Do you think that driving in the rain would be a way to really change things up this weekend?

Melton :  Driving in the rain would definitely be a change from what we normally see. While the rain would be unfortunate for the fans in the stands (grab your neon yellow rain coats, folks), it would be an absolute blast to watch from home and drive in. I have always wanted to watch these guys duke it out in the rain, but of course you have to take safety into consideration.

Bushee :  Absolutely!!! I’m not a huge fan of road course races (insert I’m not a “true fan” here), so to see them race in the rain would be awesome! Of course, they would have to race on rain tires & would need windshield wipers but hey, it would be fun!

Copple :  I am so excited at the possibility of racing in the rain! XFINITY Series races in the rain so why can’t Cup? I am secretly hoping for rain at some point in the weekend just to see how the cars handle it.

Hobbs :  It would certainly change things up; this weekend and every weekend =P Whether or not NASCAR is willing to take another chance this season experimenting with different things is another thing. NASCAR has messed with 2 races already this year by ‘testing’ different cars; let enough be enough. Sure, who wouldn’t want to see the best drivers in the world duke it out on some rain tired? Yet, at the same time, why let mother nature and rain tire racing, which would be new to these guys, affect a race outcome? I would love to see this happen, but I think it must be 100% figured out before we get there.

Hull :  I honestly believe that it will be interesting to see a race in the rain on the new race tires. I think that it will increase the difficulty of this already challenging road course, and will ultimately prove who has the best racing skills out there. Obviously, the road course ringers will have the advantage here because not only they proficient in road racing, but they are used to racing on rain tires, where some of the Cup regulars will have a hard time with it. It will be interesting to see who fares well with this if it comes to this.

Tow :  Well it would be awesome to see something different with windshield wipers and rain tires. But then again at the same time I think it would be silly since that would really take away the competition element and it would put the drivers at an even higher risk of danger. Rain tires and wipers were a great test in other series…however, I don’t think they should be included in racing within the Cup Series.

Tiongson :  Thankfully, it’ll be sunny today but the prospects for rain seemed pretty strong early on in the week.  It would’ve been interesting to see as we’ve seen it work in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, particularly at Road America. Sure, it may have led to a somewhat cautious race but strategy would’ve been in play and we’ll have to wait another year for this to be a possibility in the Sprint Cup Series.

Question 2
Ouch.

Ouch.

Due to the hits of Jeb Burton and Kasey Kahne into the pit wall at Pocono this past weekend, there is talk of extending the pit wall to make it safer for the drivers coming on to pit road. Do you think this is a good idea? Should it be implemented at other tracks?

Melton :  I will never argue with changes when it comes to driver safety. We have seen some scary things this season so far, between Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. If NASCAR can find a way to make the sport even safer, but still keep it enjoyable for fans, then by all means. I think that any changes made to Pocono should be followed for every other track. Why only change one track? The same thing can happen anywhere else.

Bushee :  Whatever these tracks can do to keep drivers and crews safe, I’m all for. That being said, it seems every time they implement another safety measure, some freak accident happens that sets them back again. I feel for these track owners, but I know they’re doing what it takes to keep everyone safe.

Copple :  Extending pit road at all tracks would be unnecessary in my opinion. Extending it as Pocono might be a good idea after what happened this last weekend but track personnel and NASCAR need to take a good hard look at past races at Pocono before investing that money in extending pit wall. It’s not something that happens frequently.

Hobbs :  For the who know how many-ith time… SAFER Barriers should be be around the ENTIRE circumference of a race track (inside and outside). Just because, statistically speaking, drivers do not hit certain parts of walls at tracks does not mean they will never hit it. Since the SAFER Barriers have come into play, drivers have been finding those unprotected walls more and more. It is time for NASCAR and the tracks to step up and make safety the main priority before anything else; and before anything worse happens to a driver.

Hull :  Sliding onto pit road is not only dangerous to the drivers, but the crewmen as well. So I think that it may help to extend the wall. Let’s face it, the crewmen have very dangerous jobs as well, so it should be a part of NASCAR’s agenda to protect them as well. So they should not only do this at Pocono, where it can very easily happen again, but at all tracks. Even with the advancements in safety in the sport, they still have a long way to go at tracks. I hope that this helps and doesn’t make things more dangerous when the drivers hit the extended wall.

Tiongson :  It’s not a bad idea at all.  Last weekend just seemed to be two unfortunate incidents where thankfully, safety prevailed but these strange incidents occurred.  This is no fault of the track or on NASCAR – it’s just one of those situations in which we’ll learn from it.  I’m just thankful nobody sat on the pit road wall for the Nos. 32 and 47 teams because that was scary enough as it was for Kasey Kahne and everyone at Pocono.

 

Question 3
How Jimmie handles the haters...

How Jimmie handles the haters…

With great talent comes many haters, and for Jimmie Johnson that is nothing new. After his sixth place finish this past weekend, Johnson went on a rampage on his Twitter making snide comments towards his haters tweeting at him. With social media being such a huge spotlight in modern times, do you think that people like Johnson should be more careful about what they post?

Melton :  I wouldn’t really call that a “rampage”. Coming from a girl who has gone on many rampages in her time, I know what I’m talking about…Kidding… Well, kind of. In all seriousness though, I think Jimmie just gets fed up. Can you blame the guy? Of course you can blame him, he has his own special hashtag, which is #blamejj. Fans expect a lot out of Johnson, he has been one of the top drivers for many years now. We see the same type of hate happen towards Kyle Busch. With the amount of success he has had, he is going to have MANY haters. Week after week, no matter where the guy finishes, there is always a comment to be made, and if any other driver or person was in that situation, they would react similarly, if not worse. One person can only take so much criticism and I really feel for the guy.

Honestly, I have seen other drivers behave much more irresponsibly on Twitter. I won’t name any names, because I like to keep it happy and warm up in here, but I can think of three of the top of my head. Nobody bats an eye when this happens because it is a normal occurrence for them. When you have Johnson, who ALWAYS has an extremely pleasant attitude, showing his displeasure about a few negative comments, everyone kind of freaks out. To be honest though, I didn’t see anything that would be considered unprofessional or out of line. I think that he is having light hearted fun with the negative posters, I don’t think there is anything more to it than that.

I do think that drivers have to watch what they say, but I don’t think this was one of those times. We have to remember that these drivers are human beings, just like you and me. Some people can be downright nasty with their comments, and that is not okay. It is not okay to cyberbully people on the internet, no matter who they are. We are trying to teach our children to treat each other with respect, yet we have people acting like teenagers, hiding behind their computer screens and cell phones. I see this on a daily basis and it really bothers me deeply. You don’t have to like a driver or be happy that they are dominating, but you should have enough decency to not wish ill things upon another person.

Okay everyone, I’m stepping down from the podium now.

Bushee :  Why should these drivers be careful about how they react to haters, when those people aren’t being careful about what they say? I’m a firm believer that if you can’t take it, stop dishing it out. Of course the drivers DO need to watch what they say when it comes to their sponsors or anything NASCAR related, but what’s the point in having Twitter if you can’t jab back at the jabbers?

Copple :  I was following along with Johnson’s Twitter rampage and was laughing the entire time. This isn’t anything new for 48. He has done it multiple times in the past, I’ve even heard some people tweet him hateful things just to try and get him to answer. I honestly don’t think it is harming him one bit.

Hobbs :  Absolutely not! Why should drivers be someone they are not online? It is a place for the drivers to interact with fans, and even the haters. Some drivers have more fun with the haters than others do and I say let them do as they please! Social media is honestly one of the best things the drivers have done to get involved more with their fans, and I do not believe for a single moment that they should hide who they are and watch what they say (obviously to an extent).

Hull :  This is sadly the thing that we all must deal with on social media. It seems like there always people who think they are big and bad behind the computer/cell phone screen who try to stir up trouble. I think that if that person has a right to attack a certain driver/person, I also think that it is the person’s right to defend him/herself. While I am not a fan of Jimmie Johnson’s, I applaud him for standing up to the haters. But I think at the same time, he needs to have thicker skin. He should know that sadly, it’s a part of being a NASCAR driver to deal with haters. So it’s such a tough deal.

Tow :  Yes and no, I think that drivers and others in the professional spotlight should be cautious but aware. When I walked into work this past week my co-workers and I discussed our thoughts on Johnson’s Twitter rampage…and to be honest we thought it was great. I don’t think it hurts to confront some of the hate every once in awhile so long as it’s done in an appropriate manner with limited usage of profanity or hate words. I think Johnson spoke his peace and I commend him for being professional yet aggressive at the same time.

Tiongson :  I thought Jimmie exercised good thought and tact when replying to some of the snarkier race fans last weekend.  When it’s tastefully done, why not?  Trolling can be handled either with silence or by being so wise back, the trolls haven’t a clue what hit them.  Honestly, it was hilarious and we just have to remember that these racers are like us – people.  Some race fans take their feelings with a driver a bit to the extreme and let’s just say that the really extreme ones may need a reality check.

 

Question 4
Jeff Gordon knows the summer is when his 24 team can bring it!

Jeff Gordon knows the summer is when his 24 team can bring it!

Watkins Glen this weekend will bring us another week closer to the start of the Chase! What about the Chase are you most excited about?

Melton :  I am very excited to see who is going to clench those final spots. I have a couple drivers in mind who I think will get there, but only time will tell. I just really love this part of the season. I love seeing how passionate fans are about their drivers, I love the intensity, the passion. I’m excited to see if we will see a returning champion or someone completely new. I think that the next few races are going to be very interesting.

Bushee :  I’m always excited to keep an eye on chase drivers and how well they all new. I wasn’t a fan of the format at first, but it is a little exciting. I think I’m looking forward most to seeing if we get a repeat Champion, or if someone else will take the trophy home.

Copple :  I am still not completely sold on this version of the Chase so I guess what I’m most excited about is just seeing it play out again and see if it turns out any different that last season.

Hobbs :  Martinsville is always a favorite of mine, but, ask me this question again when NASCAR finally decides to change the tracks up a bit in the Chase to make things a little more exciting.

Hull :  There’s so many things that I am excited about regarding the Chase that I can’t pick just one! I just can’t wait to see how it plays out, especially if Kyle Busch does make the Chase. It will be interesting to see who makes it to the final four this year! We saw a different mix of drivers last year, so it will be super interesting to see who will be there this year with the second year of the grid!

Tow :  I’m most excited to see which drivers will slide into those final few spots to solidify the top 16 drivers going into the Chase. I highly doubt that we will six different winners with the few remaining races we have left prior to the start of the Chase, so it will be interesting to see which drivers make it in via points and which drivers barely make the cut. Overall I think this new Chase format is extremely exciting; I’m all for the eliminations to keep things fresh and teams on their toes.

Tiongson :  I’m excited about the fact that we have another year of intensity and surprises awaiting us.  Drivers who’ll make a repeat entry into this format of the Chase will at least try to apply what they learned last year and apply it to their title efforts now.  As for some new Chase entrees like Martin Truex Jr., he has to be thrilled about being a part of the championship fight and they’ll have an approach that could be very interesting to watch!

 

Nicely done, team!  Alrighty, let’s look at those TPF Track Talk points standings heading into Round 22 of the season at good ole Watkins Glen!
1) Ashley Hull – 702 points (3 wins) 
2) Rob Tiongson – 677 points (4 wins) 
3) Ashley Hobbs – 630 points (2 wins) 
4) Jessica Bushee – 572 points 
5) Courtney Clement – 566 points (2 wins) 
6) Kim Melton – 356 points (3 wins) 
7) Jessica Tow – 340 points
8) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points
9) Katie Copple – 0 points, first race is today
It’s about that time to grab a snack and see who we pick to win today’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen on TPF!
All they wanna do is win, win, win...

All they wanna do is win, win, win…

Hull :  My pick this weekend is last year’s winner, AJ Allmendinger!

Tiongson :  At some point, the 47’s flashes of brilliance will pay off and it will result in a repeat win for this Los Gatos, CA native.  Look for AJ Allmendinger to win this race once more at Watkins Glen.

Melton :  So now, it is race pick time. This one is so incredibly tough for me. I have been studying the past race winners and three people come to mind. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch. While I love Tony and think that he has been making serious progress over the past few races, I don’t think that we will see a win this time around.

Jeff Gordon has quite a few wins here, but I still feel a bit questionable about him winning this weekend. Kyle has been on a roll lately, but with only two wins here, obviously it isn’t his “strongest” track. He did win Sonoma, which is nice to point out….That being said, I am going to go out on a limb and choose 2014 winner A.J. Allmendinger! Yeah, I’m sure nobody was expecting that.

Allmendinger has impressed me this season. He has determination like none other and he is a great competitor. The guy drove his heart out while battling strep throat, he had car issues at Sonoma, it is about time this guy visits victory lane. Dinger is great with road course racing, so I think this weekend could be a great one for him.

Hobbs :  Because he has to do it sooner or later – Jeff Gordon!!!

Bushee :  My race pick this weekend is going to be Aric Almirola. Totally off the wall and a bit brave, but I haven’t done well with picks so far. Do me well Aric!

Clement :  My pick today is Jimmie Johnson!

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race and who is your favorite to win?
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts express in Track Talk are solely of the authors and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.​
Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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