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For the second consecutive week, Regan Smith finished a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the top 10 on Sunday. Smith got a ninth-place result at Watkins Glen, just as he did the week before at Pocono.
Sunday's finish was encouraging for a team which has had its share of struggles in 2012, as before last week it had not finished a race better than 14th.
NOTE: If you're looking for the complete NASCAR results from Watkins Glen, they're here.
"I am happy to come away with a top-10," Smith said. "We had to fight hard all day and that's what we did. I wasn't overly happy with the car on a couple of spots on the track and they were pretty crucial spots. Nonetheless, the guys worked hard in the pits with a strategy to get us up there. That's the kind of thing you need to do when you're not perfect on the track."
The uptick in performance coincides with a change atop the pit box.
Todd Berrier replaced Pete Rondeau as crew chief for the 78 team beginning three weeks ago at Indianapolis. Berrier, a veteran and the owner of eight Cup wins, has brought some much-needed experience to the single-car team operating on a fraction of the budget of the sport's top organizations.
"I am very proud of this team and very excited about what we've been able to accomplish recently," Smith said. "You need to get top-10s before you get top-fives, and top-fives will eventually turn into wins. We're on the right track and that's encouraging."
For Smith, a good run at the Glen was especially meaningful because the race was in his native New York.
"Watkins Glen is my home track and to cap off the weekend with a solid result is pretty special," Smith said. "I am real excited about going to Michigan next weekend."
Either 43 of the world's best race car drivers are a bunch of whiners with active imaginations or NASCAR failed to recognize there was oil on the track at the end of Sunday's Watkins Glen race.
After hearing from the drivers after the race, it seems to be the latter.
Jeff Gordon, who hit what he said was oil and spun out – relegating him to a 21st-place finish – said it was "pretty ridiculous" for NASCAR to not throw the caution.
"It's just unfortunate that that gets taken away from you because NASCAR doesn't want to end the race under yellow," he said. "I understand. You want to keep it entertaining and give the winner a shot at it, but there's a lot of other things going on out there, too.
"I think they completely disregarded that, and, hey, it's over now. We'll move on."
Other drivers also talked about the oil after the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said it was "a bad deal" to keep racing with oil on the track and said he didn't like the situation. Clint Bowyer said the slick track reminded him of riding motocross, where riders left the groove to find traction. And Jimmie Johnson called the last two laps "out of control" because of the oil.
"I thought I blew a right-front tire when I turned in (the corner)," Johnson said. "(I thought), 'Why would I blow a right front?' The right front was in the oil slipping, and I could feel that."
Brad Keselowski said the oil was the reason he slid off the track into the grass while battling with eventual race winner Marcos Ambrose, and he thought he threw the race away at one point due to the "undriveable" conditions.
"I looked in my mirror, and he was in the grass, too," Keselowski said. "That shows you how bad the track was."
Even Ambrose talked extensively about the oil, which he called a "fine spray" instead of the typical black streak (though he was glad NASCAR didn't throw the caution, of course).
"Normally, you can see it on the racetrack, but I couldn't see it," he said. "It was, 'Wait until the car slides and try and save it.'"
NASCAR officials, though, told reporters there was no evidence of oil on the track.
"We got a report of smoke on the 47 (Bobby Labonte's car) and not any dropped oil," NASCAR's Robin Pemberton told USAToday.com. "And basically that's it. It looked to me that everybody made it through OK. One car went around. And the rest of it was good hard racing coming to the checkered (flag)."
In addition, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby told SportingNews.com, "it was obvious to me it wasn't that bad."
The last lap of Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen was one of the most exciting in years, but it also deserves a closer look to try and truly understand what happened in the incident between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
At first glance, it appeared Keselowski simply wrecked Busch, who was leading the race at the white flag. Heading into Turn 2, Keselowski made contact with the right rear quarterpanel of the No. 18 car and sent it spinning around.
But there's much more to the story than that.
First, let's back up for a moment. Bobby Labonte – one of Busch's fellow Toyota cars – was leaking oil all over the track and attempting to limp his car to the finish. NASCAR did not see the oil and thus did not believe there was probable cause to stop the race, forcing drivers to finish the last two laps while sliding all over the pavement.
Busch, in his position as the race leader, was the first car to run through the oil. So while Busch attempted to save his car in every corner, his once-sizable lead suddenly dwindled. The No. 18 car even slowed to the point people thought there was something wrong with it.
There wasn't anything wrong with the car, but Busch was having trouble in the slippery conditions. In Turn 1 of the final lap, Busch drove through the oil and went off track into the paved runoff area while leading the race. Keselowski and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose were at an advantage because Busch went through the oil first.
In the runoff area, Busch gathered up his car and made a beeline for Turn 2 – as did Keselowski – and the No. 18 car got to the corner first. Busch almost certainly figured he was clear, but it turned out he wasn't – by maybe half a foot.
Though Busch is a very aggressive driver, he does not have a reputation for cutting off his competitors. He is known as a clean racer to his peers, despite what many fans believe. In this situation, however, he essentially did cut Keselowski off – but that's likely because he thought he was clear, not because he was expecting Keselowski to give him a break.
Of all drivers, Busch would know a competitor wasn't going to hit the brakes and just let him in line on the last lap while going for the win. Rather, it's more realistic Busch thought he had room to get in front of Keselowski; and, until the very last moment, he did.
Keselowski's move was not dirty. If he had plowed into Busch's back bumper and knocked the No. 18 car off the track, that would have been considered unfair. In this case, however, he had position and wasn't about to let Busch in line with a win at stake. Perhaps if there had been 30 laps to go, Keselowski would have allowed for that courtesy – but not on the last lap.
Busch is right to be upset with the result. A win might have gotten him into the Chase, and now there are only four races left until the playoff field is set. But if he's honest with himself, he'll blame circumstances rather than Keselowski.
If anything, Busch should be mad at Labonte for leaking oil all over the track or at NASCAR for not throwing a caution. But if the roles were reversed, Busch likely would have done the same thing to Keselowski as what happened to him.
And while Keselowski didn't do anything wrong, he probably can't expect a break from Busch the next time both drivers are racing hard. The move doesn't warrant retaliation from Busch, but it also probably won't win Keselowski any brownie points. Keselowski could have backed off and decided to let Busch have the spot for the moment, but racers don't really do that.
It's cliché to say Sunday's incident was "One of those racing deals," but that's truthfully what happened. Neither driver was at fault; rather, it was simply an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Dale Earnhardt isn't noted for his road-racing ability, but there he was in the closing laps at Watkins Glen running in the top 10. He was certainly in prime position to secure his spot atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for the third straight week.
But seven laps from the finish, his good day went awry. Coming off Turn 5, Earnhardt Jr. looped his No. 88 Chevrolet and there he went, plummeting down the leaderboard. And with it, his points lead disappeared, entirely.
"I just got in the corner and made a mistake and that was pretty much all there was to it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I was just overdriving the car."
After his 28th-place result, Earnhardt Jr. finds himself fourth overall in the standings, 17 points behind teammate and new points leader Jimmie Johnson. And in a testament to just how consistent he has been in 2012, Sunday's result marked the first time this season Earnhardt Jr. has finished outside the top 10 in consecutive weeks.
"I thought we were having a great day and working really hard," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We made some adjustments to help the car, and made the same adjustments again that last run. It was a little bit too much, but the car was still really good. I was behind a couple guys I thought I shouldn't have been behind, and I just got in over my head."
However, if there is a silver lining in all this, it's that the Cup circuit heads off to Michigan next weekend. That just happens to be the site of Earnhardt Jr.'s lone victory this season and where, in dominant fashion, he snapped his four-year winless drought.
But for now anyway, Earnhardt Jr. wasn't thinking about that. He was still reflecting on a day that he let get away from him.
"I don't think it could be much worse," he said. "I'm pretty disappointed and upset. I made a mistake. Not much I can do. Can't go back and fix it."
In a wild final two laps that rivaled any race in recent memory for unrelenting action, Marcos Ambrose out-dueled Brad Keselowski to win Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Kyle Busch had the lead at the white flag, but slid in a patch of oil exiting Turn 1 on the final lap. Keselowski likewise slid in the oil, hit Busch's No. 18 Toyota and spun it. For the rest of the final lap, Ambrose and Keselowski raced side-by-side for the lead, with Ambrose finally clearing the No. 2 Dodge in the last corner.
The victory was Ambrose's second straight at Watkins Glen and the second of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Jimmie Johnson finished third and took over the series lead by one point over Greg Biffle, who wound up sixth. Clint Bowyer was fourth, followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Biffle and Busch.
Tony Stewart finished on the bottom end of a roller-coaster day. Starting from the rear of the field for dragging a gas can from his pits under caution on Lap 27, Stewart charged toward the front and was running second to Keselowski when he spun in Turn 7 on Lap 72 and backed his No. 14 Chevy into the guardrail.
That left Keselowski and Ambrose to restart 1-2 on Lap 75 in the 90-lap race, but before the two front-row cars cleared the first corner, Busch took them three-wide to the inside and grabbed the lead. After a protracted battle with Keselowski, Ambrose took over the second position on Lap 81 but couldn't gain ground on the race winner.
Keselowski retook the second position in Turn 5 on Lap 89 -- and then the fireworks started.
Here are the results from Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen:
It's NASCAR race day at Watkins Glen, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's Finger Lakes 355 for you below.
What time does the race start today? Former Major League Baseball catcher Kirt Manwaring will give the command to start engines at 1:09 p.m. Eastern time today. Following a few pace laps, Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown will wave the green flag at 1:20 p.m. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race itself, turn on your TV set at 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
Race name/distance: Today's race is called the "Finger Lakes 355." Watkins Glen was unable to sign a sponsor for the race, so track officials just named it after the Finger Lakes region where the track is located. But 355 isn't the amount of miles – it's 355 kilometers. The race distance is just 220.5 miles, which is 90 laps around the 2.45-mile track. Today's race is only eight laps longer than Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. This is ESPN's third broadcast of its portion of the season, and it will handle the remainder of the season. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site and on the "Watch ESPN" app. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.
*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates about the event. ***
National anthem: Country music singer Marlee Scott will sing both the United States and Canada national anthems before the race today (the Canada version won't be on TV, though). Watkins Glen, New Hampshire and Michigan play both anthems because they have so many fans from Canada who come over the border for the race.
Tickets: The race is not a sellout, so you should be good to go if you're planning to make a last-minute trip on race day.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather at Watkins Glen should be pleasant. There isn't much chance of rain – unlike past Watkins Glen races – and the temperature is expected to be in the high 70s.
Last time: Last year, Marcos Ambrose finally got his breakthrough first NASCAR win and thrust himself into the wild card picture. Could Ambrose or pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya do the same thing today?
Here's the starting lineup for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen:
Carl Edwards is batting 1.000.
Grabbing the lead from Brad Keselowski after a restart with 10 laps left in Saturday's Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International, Edwards held on to win his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start of the season.
Edwards took the top spot from Keselowski on lap 73 of 82, completing a pass to the outside as the cars approached the esses at the 2.45-mile road course. Keselowski regained the lead momentarily on Lap 76 but lost it again to Edwards' crossover move as the cars approached Turn 1 to start Lap 77.
That's when a caution for Austin Dillon's blown tire slowed the field and set up a restart with two laps left. After a side-by-side battle in Turn 7 on Lap 81, Edwards held off Keselowski to win by 1.130 seconds.
"I hate to admit it, but I missed a downshift in Turn 6," Edwards said of the sequence of events that allowed Keselowski to pull up beside him as the cars approached the white flag. "All day, that was where he was beating me, so I went in there extra hard, and I missed my downshift and he got next to me."
Keselowski, however, ran out of room to the outside, and Edwards pulled away to his 38th Nationwide victory, breaking a tie for third with Kevin Harvick on the series' all-time win list.
"Obviously, he missed that last left-hander (Turn 6)," Keselowski said. "I pulled up beside his left-side door and went into (Turn 7) on Carl's outside, and he got loose and came up the track and hit me and put me in the wall there.
"That kind of took away all my momentum. I didn't have a chance at it from there."
Pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. ran third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and road course ace Ron Fellows.
Entering the race with high expectations after her strong run at Road America in June, Danica Patrick suffered terminal damage to her No. 7 Chevrolet before the race was a lap old.
Ryan Truex's No. 20 Toyota slid through the grass in the first corner and back onto the pavement right in front of Patrick's car. The collision broke Patrick's radiator and ultimately put her out of the race in 43rd place, the worst finish of her NASCAR career.
"One thing leads to the next in these situations, and the radiator was leaking," Patrick said. "I noticed on my lap (after attempted repairs on pit road) that it took a long, long time to get to fourth gear on the backstraight. It might have been losing power at that point in time. When they got the radiator changed -- and they did it really quickly -- I went to fire it, and there was water coming out of the tail pipe. It wouldn't turn over.
"I feel so bad. I wish it would have gone differently but that's the sport. There's a lot of stuff that is out of your control and there's a lot of stuff you look back at that you would've, could've, should've done differently -- but that's just racing."
Scott Graves, Edwards' crew chief, is batting 1.000, too, with a win in his first Nationwide Series race. . . . Elliott Sadler finished 12th and saw his lead in the series standings shrink to 13 points over Stenhouse, 24 over Hornish and 29 over Dillon, who finished 23rd and lost two positions in the points.
1. (2) Carl Edwards, Ford, 82, $52,050.
2. (4) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 82, $26,925.
3. (1) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 82, $29,093.
4. (10) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 82, $27,143.
5. (15) Ron Fellows, Chevrolet, 82, $16,925.
6. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 82, $13,475.
7. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 82, $12,725.
8. (3) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 82, $12,350.
9. (8) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 82, $20,618.
10. (9) Brian Scott, Toyota, 82, $19,418.
11. (19) Michael Annett, Ford, 82, $18,468.
12. (7) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 82, $17,993.
13. (14) Miguel Paludo, Chevrolet, 82, $17,893.
14. (20) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 82, $17,768.
15. (13) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 82, $18,168.
16. (16) Victor Gonzalez Jr., Toyota, 82, $18,343.
17. (27) Jason Bowles, Toyota, 82, $21,193.
18. (28) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 82, $17,518.
19. (21) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 82, $17,443.
20. (34) Kenny Habul, Toyota, 82, $11,125.
21. (24) Kyle Kelley, Chevrolet, 82, $11,350.
22. (6) Joey Logano, Toyota, 82, $10,825.
23. (30) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 82, $17,218.
24. (12) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 81, $17,118.
25. (39) Tim Connolly, Chevrolet, 81, $17,518.
26. (40) Eric McClure, Toyota, 77, $16,998.
27. (26) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Engine, 55, $10,475.
28. (41) Tony Raines, Dodge, Vibration, 45, $16,873.
29. (25) Alex Kennedy, Toyota, Accident, 37, $16,838.
30. (38) Daryl Harr, Chevrolet, 33, $17,103.
31. (31) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Electrical, 27, $16,743.
32. (42) Dexter Stacey, Chevrolet, Handling, 25, $16,683.
33. (43) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 23, $10,185.
34. (35) Eric Curran, Dodge, Electrical, 18, $10,125.
35. (29) Timmy Hill, Ford, Alternator, 14, $10,085.
36. (37) Matthew Bell, Ford, Accident, 11, $16,518.
37. (32) Chris Cook, Chevrolet, Overheating, 8, $10,000.
38. (17) Alex Popow, Toyota, Accident, 5, $16,424.
39. (18) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Vibration, 3, $9,820.
40. (33) Jeff Green, Toyota, Vibration, 3, $9,695.
41. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, Brakes, 2, $9,655.
42. (22) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Brakes, 2, $9,615.
43. (23) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Accident, 2, $16,002.
Kyle Busch, 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and 12 points out of a wild card spot, says he and his team have a "win or bust" mentality over the next five races until the Chase.
"Finishing second, third or fourth isn't going to get us anywhere," Busch said after qualifying second for Sunday's Watkins Glen race.
Busch has some good tracks coming up where he could get a win, including Bristol and Richmond, but he's most interested in winning at the Glen.
"This is the next one on the (schedule) and this is one I like to run well at," he said. "I've won here before and I put it on my list every year to try to compete and run up front and win this thing. Hopefully we can achieve that. ... You do that, and we'll have that second win for the wild card."
Will two wins be enough? Busch said "three (wins) is a lock," but two could be enough to make it if he stays in front of drivers like Jeff Gordon.
He mentioned Gordon specifically rather than Ryan Newman or teammate Joey Logano because he considers the No. 24 team to be the biggest threat to win another race.
"If we pass him back in points, obviously, that'll get us back in the Chase," he said. "But he runs really, really well and Atlanta and Bristol, too. There's an opportunity for him to get another win. If he gets two and we're in front of him in points with only one win, then he's in and we're out."
And if all else fails, Busch has another strategy.
"All I can say is get a horseshoe and jam it up your you-know-what and you'll be alright," he said.
Danica Patrick had high hopes of a solid finish on the Watkins Glen International road course, where she used to race in her IndyCar days.
But she didn't even make it through one turn of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race before her day was ruined.
On the first turn of the first lap, Ryan Truex went off into the grass and then came back up onto the track. The moment he returned to the racing surface, Patrick was there and plowed into his No. 20 car.
"I was just following the car down into the corner and right at the last second he came up on the track right in front of me," she said. "I suppose in retrospect, I should have either slowed down or gone a bit wider. But it's so hard to know in those moments if they're going to come back out on the track and be fine, but he just stopped.
"The car in front of me got right through, but I didn't. I wish I would have done it differently. But that's the way accidents happen and you just don't have much time to react."
Patrick's JR Motorsports team brought the No. 7 car to the garage to try to repair a leaking radiator. But after replacing it, Patrick said there was water coming out of the exhaust pipes and the engine wouldn't turn over.
"It's unfortunate, because we really felt like we could have a strong finish in the Go Daddy car today," she said.
Because Patrick was involved in a wreck even before the start-and-park cars pulled off the track, she finished 43rd – the worst finish of her NASCAR career. Her previous worst finish was 38th, which came in both the Daytona 500 and the Daytona Nationwide Series race in February.
Here's a video of the incident:
Ron Fellows circles road course races on the NASCAR calendar like holidays, primarily because they've been his greatest source of success.
The winding road at Watkins Glen International stands out in particular for the Windsor, Ontario native. Of his six combined wins in NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series competition, all but one have come at the Glen.
Fellows, whose part-time NASCAR slate has been exclusively on road courses since 1999, will get another chance to taste stock-car victory in today's Zippo 200 at The Glen (2:15 p.m. ET, ABC).
Fellows hasn't won in NASCAR since 2008, when he captured the first national series race to be contested on rain tires in Montreal, and hasn't prevailed at the Glen since 2001. He'll be bringing the same JR Motorsports entry that he drove to a third-place finish at Road America in June.
"I feel very good about it. We had a strong car at Road America. We played catch-up the day following a flat tire, then we had an issue in the pits just trying to fix some radios," Fellows said. "But, you know, Watkins Glen, we've had great success at the Glen. It's a track that suits my driving style. Yeah, it's like a second home. Really enjoy racing there."
Fellows is one of several road-racing part-timers on the 48-driver Watkins Glen entry list who will provide subplot to the Nationwide Series' points chase, which remains a four-car breakaway.
Elliott Sadler, who locked down his fourth win of the season last weekend in Iowa, continues to set the pace, with Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon 18 points back in second place. Defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 21 points off the top in third with Sam Hornish Jr., last week's winner of the final Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus, 34 points behind Sadler in fourth.
Juan Pablo Montoya topped qualifying on Saturday at Watkins Glen International, securing him the top spot in the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the road course.
Montoya bested Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.
Travis Kvapil wrecked during qualifying and did not complete his lap, but no one was sent home because there were only 43 drivers who entered the race.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International:
Weather forecast this afternoon and Sunday will be drier for NASCAR at Watkins Glen International. The only catch, we could still see a few isolated or scattered showers and thunderstorms.
Storm system over southeastern Canada will keep a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms across western New York this weekend. The air is mostly dry, so any shower activity will be limited. It doesn't look like we will see another washout like last year, or a rain shortened even like last weekend in Pocono.
This afternoon, we will see a mix of sunshine and clouds with just a slight chance of an isolated showers. Most of the time will be dry and high temperature near 80.
Sunday will feature more of the same with a mix of sunshine and clouds and isolated showers and storms as the storm system moves to the north-northeast.
2:15 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Series race – Partly sunny, isolated chance of showers – temp: 78
6:00 p.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series race – Partly sunny, isolated chance of showers – temp: 75
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 72
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 74
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 76
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 76
A rainy Friday at Watkins Glen International shook up the NASCAR schedule, and the sanctioning body has made some adjustments to Saturday's event lineup as a result.
The Sprint Cup Series cars only got on track for one practice on Friday after the first one was rained out, so NASCAR added a Cup practice – the so-called "Happy Hour" – from 8-9:25 a.m. Eastern on Saturday morning.
At 9:35, the Nationwide Series cars will qualify, followed by Cup qualifying at 11:40 a.m.
The Nationwide race begins at 2:15, and it's a long one: At 82 laps, the Nationwide event is only eight laps (20 miles) shorter than Sunday's Cup race.
After the Nationwide race, NASCAR's Grand-Am Rolex Series cars will have a two-hour race beginning at 6 p.m.
Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race is set to begin shortly after 1 p.m. It's a 90-lap, 220.5-mile event – one of the shortest races on the calendar.
On the strength of five top-fives and 11 top-10s, Martin Truex Jr. sits fifth overall in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. But even in the midst of the best year of his career, the spotlight continues to be elusvie the Michael Waltrip Racing driver.
For instance, despite finishing third last week at Pocono, Truex was never interviewed by ESPN after the race. This was unusual, as the network customarily interviews the top three finishers immediately afterward (though the frightening rainstorm may have had something to do with the omission).
This slight did not go unnoticed, as Truex retweeted four comments posted on his Twitter feed, all referencing ESPN's lack of interview. "It's all good," he tweeted a few minutes later.
"I don't like interviews that much anyway," Truex added. "We'll do it in Vegas when it counts."
On Friday at Watkins Glen, Truex addressed further whether he feels he's getting the attention he deserves and if he's OK flying underneath the radar.
"Honestly, either way it really doesn't matter," he said. "I'm paid to go out there and do a job and I feel like I'm doing that as well as I can possibly do that right now. For me, that's enough. I really don't need to read my name in print or be in the headlines; that's not what I'm here for.
"I'm here to do my job, have fun doing it, work with my guys and be part of a team."
Truex praised his team and said it's done a "fabulous job" of taking the program to a more competitive level. At the same time, he said he's felt like a better leader for the team.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished and whether it makes the headlines or not, I could care less," he said.
There is one person who is paying close attention to what Truex is doing in 2012: Team owner Michael Waltrip. The two sides are "very, very close" to signing a contract extension that will keep Truex with the team, the driver said.
According to Truex, the deal is "basically done" and could be announced in the next couple weeks.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with five weeks to go before the Chase field is set.
But once the final 10 races begin, Earnhardt Jr. will fall out of the top spot unless he picks up at least two more wins. NASCAR gives Chase bonus points to drivers for each win, and Earnhardt Jr. still only has one victory compared to three for the leaders.
So in that sense, being the points leader means nothing for Earnhardt Jr. and his team. On the other hand, he's said several times how much it means to him to be running well enough to lead the points.
Earnhardt Jr. was asked Friday if it be worth trying to maintain the lead because of the momentum boost it would provide mentally?
Not so much, he said.
Earnhardt Jr. said his team was "really conservative" all year long to make sure it qualified for the Chase. Now that a playoff berth is all but certain, the team can gamble a lot more with strategy – like stretching its fuel mileage to try to win.
"You don't want to miss the Chase being foolish," he said. "We feel like we're in a good position to (gamble) and these last few races we can kind of throw it all out there.
"If we fall back in points because we made a few mistakes or made some gambles that didn't pay off, it's not a big deal. We know what kind of season we've had and we know we've got a lot to be proud of, and I know mentally we could go into the Chase pretty excited about our chances."
But the whole point of gambling, he quickly pointed out, would be to try to pick up some more wins before the Chase begins. And giving up on points racing for a good reason has "been a big load off my shoulders."
"We can just concentrate on the single event, and what's happening at that very moment – not really have to worry about anything too far out in the future," he said. "... We can forget about the Chase for the moment. Concentrate on being fast. Concentrate on what we are doing this weekend, next weekend. Really look at the particulars, and try to find more speed.
"... There is really no pressure. So that's a good thing. That's a good feeling."
Earnhardt Jr. said he knows his points lead could vanish if something goes wrong at the Glen this weekend – he could "walk out of here in fifth pretty easily" if there's a crash – but it still won't affect how he looks at the season overall.
"If anything, I think (losing the points lead) would make us hungrier and try to work harder knowing we haven't quite made the statement we want to make this year," he said. "We want to win the championship, we want to battle for the championship. On the way to getting that done, you want to win more races."
After last weekend's tragic lightning incident at Pocono Raceway, weather will be a focus this weekend at Watkins Glen International. This is especially true with a slight risk of strong-to-severe storms during the day today.
Rain and storms are likely off and on today. During the afternoon some of the storms could be strong to potentially severe. The Storm Prediction Center has all of New York state in a slight risk for severe weather. Gusty winds, hail and frequent lightning are all possible with any storm that could develop later today. It could be a challenge to get all of the scheduled on-track events in today.
All of this activity is associated with a slow-moving storm system moving through the Great Lakes. It begins to lift out of the area Saturday and into Sunday. Other than today, the rest of the weekend looks mostly dry. There is only small chances of scattered-to-isolated showers Saturday and Sunday. The way the forecast looks, I don't expect any weather to cause either a washout or shortened race for either the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series this weekend.
9:00 a.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series practice – Showers and storms – temp: 70
11:00 a.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series practice – Showers and storms – temp: 75
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series practice – Showers and storms – temp: 75
2:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Series final practice – Showers and storms – temp: 78
4:10 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series final practice – Showers and storms – temp: 81
5:40 p.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Protype qualifying – Showers and storms – temp: 79
6:00 p.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series GT Class qualifying – Showers and storms – temp: 77
6:30 p.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series practice – Showers and storms – temp: 76
9:35 a.m. EDT
Nationwide Series qualifying – Partly sunny, slight chance of a shower – temp: 68
11:40 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series qualifying – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered showers/storms – temp: 73
2:15 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Series race – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered showers/storms – temp: 79
6:00 p.m. EDT
Grand-Am Rolex Series race – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered showers/storms – temp: 76
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 73
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 75
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 77
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Partly sunny, chance of an isolated shower – temp: 77
The twist of fate that inserted Jeff Gordon's name back into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff race was much like a parting of the seas. But even with one win in hand after a bizarre finish at Pocono Raceway, it's far from smooth sailing from here for the four-time champion.
Gordon shot from fifth to first when his rivals collided in front of him in what turned out to be the final restart before a rainstorm prematurely halted last Sunday's Pennsylvania 400. The result handed Gordon his first victory of the year and a provisional grasp on a wild-card berth with five races left before NASCAR's postseason.
The next of those races may be a wild-card unto itself. Gordon and the rest of the Sprint Cup field will shift to road racing at Watkins Glen International for Sunday's Finger Lakes 335 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The 2.45-mile layout was once a playground for Gordon, who romped to four wins in five years from 1997-2001. There would be no better time for Gordon to rekindle his Watkins Glen magic than now as another win would do wonders for his Chase hopes.
"I mean, that would be huge," said Gordon, who locked up his 86th career win last weekend. "To follow up what just happened in Pocono, to know what's happening with the wild card, the battle for the Chase, I think that we know while we've made some huge gains over the last several weeks, that we're certainly in no position to take a breath or be comfortable with one win being, what, 13th in points.
"Not only do we understand -- and that's why there is added pressure -- how important it is to continue to keep up a high level of performance. I don't know if we need the second win as badly as we needed the first one, but it's not far off."
The performance level of late has helped to offset dreadful early season luck for the No. 24 team. Gordon was mired in 24th in points heading into Charlotte's Coca-Cola 600 in May, but six top-10 finishes in the last seven races -- including last Sunday's win -- have helped him jump 11 spots in the Sprint Cup standings.
Although the level of competition on road courses among the stock-car crowd has tightened immensely in recent years, two road pros in particular figure to be among Gordon's toughest challengers -- Tony Stewart, who has five wins in the last 10 races at the Glen, and Marcos Ambrose, the race's defending champ.
Stewart is a virtual lock to qualify for the Chase either via a top-10 ranking in points (he's currently sixth) or one of the two wild-card berths for top winners in positions 11-20 (his three wins are tied with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for most in the series). Ambrose, however, is on exceedingly shaky Chase ground, winless and 18th in points, as he heads to the site of his only Cup win. His position is not unlike Gordon's scenario from a week ago -- in desperate need of a victory to merit Chase consideration.
"I have a lot of good memories from our win there last year, and I'm hopeful we can go out and win No. 2 this weekend," Ambrose said. ". . . My team has worked extremely hard the last few weeks and it would be a good shot of momentum for the second half of the season if we could pull off a win this weekend."
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