Best in-car audio from the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen
Listen in on team communications as drivers get pushed to the boiling point at Watkins Glen International, from Kyle Busch's restart troubles to Kyle Larson upset with AJ Allmendinger after a last-lap wreck, catch all the in-car audio.
Fantasy Fastlane: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen
Get fantasy analysis and insight for the top drivers and sleepers this weekend
Carl Edwards earns Coors Light Pole Award at The Glen
RELATD: Results " Sunday on USA " Watkins Glen lingo " See the roster WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- You can add the title "road course ringer" to Carl Edwards ' racing resume. Touring the road course at Watkins Glen in 69.689 seconds (126.562 mph) during Friday's time trials at Watkins Glen International , Edwards beat Kyle Larson (126.223 mph) by .182 seconds to earn the top starting spot for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (2:30 p.m. ET, USA, MNR SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). In winning his fourth Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 20th of his career, Edwards completed a sweep of road course poles in 2016, having also started first on the grid at Sonoma Raceway in June. Larson's second-place effort was a career-best on a road course, bettering the third starting position he earned at Sonoma in 2014. Tony Stewart (126.177 mph) qualified third on Friday, followed by Matt Kenseth (126.104 mph) and Kyle Busch (126.099 mph), both teammates to Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards said starting on the pole on the newly repaved racing surface at the Glen will be a significant advantage. "I think (Sunday) is going to be a little bit of an adventure," said Edwards, whose four poles this year constitute a career best for a single season. " The new pavement, nobody knows how that's going to go along deep into the runs with tire build-up. I think the braking zones are pretty tough, and it's going to be nice and warm. "So, just got to stay upfront, can't make any mistakes. I love road races. They're so much fun. I got to talk to Boris Said , who's basically my road racing coach to start, so that was cool today. Hopefully, tonight I'll get me some good rest and hopefully be very competitive tomorrow." Even though Edwards' No. 19 Camry was fastest in qualifying, he expects stiff competition on Sunday from his Toyota brethren. "My teammates, they're really fast," Edwards said. Kyle (Busch) is really fast and Martin (Truex Jr. of affiliated Furniture Row Racing ) is really fast. "We've got to work a little bit in race trim, but we're starting up front, and we've got a great pit crew, and hopefully we can put ( the car) in Victory Lane." Truex, in fact, was one of the favorites for the pole, but his hot lap in the money round was impeded by Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., who entered the track at the bottom of the esses as Truex was approaching that uphill section of the 2.45-mile course. Truex, who qualified 14th, returned the favor on his cool-down lap, taking Stenhouse's line in the esses and relegating the Roush Fenway Racing driver to a 30th-place starting spot. Jeff Gordon qualified 21st in his third start for Dale Earnhardt Jr . AJ Allmendinger , the 2014 Watkins Glen winner, will start ninth.
Allmendinger, Truex lead Friday Sprint Cup practices at The Glen
RELATED: Tune in this weekend on USA, CNBC PRACTICE 2: Results " Fastest laps run JTG Daugherty Racing driver AJ Allmendinger led the second Sprint Cup Series practice Friday at Watkins Glen International wheeling his No. 47 Chevrolet to a high speed of 127.551 mph. Allmendinger's sole Sprint Cup Series career win came at the New York road course in 2014. Martin Truex Jr . finished the second session runner-up to Allmendinger at a speed of 127.481 mph. The Furniture Row Racing driver was fastest in Friday's opening round. It's been a good week for Truex, who signed a new two-year contract with Furniture Row earlier this week. Roush Fenway Racing 's Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (127.416 mph), Joe Gibbs Racing 's Kyle Busch (127.381 mph) and JGR's Matt Kenseth (127.280 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was 11th-fastest in the second run of the day (126.857 mph) in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET (CNBC) for Coors Light Pole Qualifying before hitting the track on Sunday for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2:30 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). PRACTICE 1: Results " Fastest laps run Martin Truex Jr . led the opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday at Watkins Glen International with a high speed of 126.883 mph. The Furniture Row Racing driver is seeking his first win at the New York road course. Denny Hamlin finished the first session second to Truex at a speed of 126.343 mph. Casey Mears (125.896 mph), Carl Edwards (125.654 mph) and Kyle Busch (125.643 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. Defending race winner Joey Logano was sixth-fastest in the opening run (125.469 mph). In the final minutes of practice Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 Chevrolet spun after suffering from what the driver says were "brake problems." Bowyer's fastest lap was 123.219 mph, making him 32nd-fastest in the 40-car field. Danica Patrick also spun early due to brake issues.
Gordon makes 800th Sprint Cup start, Kenseth takes No. 600 at The Glen
WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon officially made his 800th NASCAR premier series start Sunday, taking the green flag at Watkins Glen International . Gordon made his 24th start at the 2.45-mile road course in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (USA, MRN, SiriusXM), substituting for the third consecutive week in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet as Dale Earnhardt Jr . recovers from concussion-related symptoms. The green flag also marked big milestones from two other drivers. Matt Kenseth , driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, made his 600th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Michael McDowell , in the Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing , made his 200th premier-series appearance. Gordon, who turned 45 on Thursday, becomes the ninth driver in NASCAR history to hit the 800-start plateau in stock-car racing's top division. Of the eight drivers ahead of him on the all-time list, five are inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Kenseth becomes the second driver to cross the 600-start barrier this season. The retiring Tony Stewart also achieved the milestone, making start No. 600 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9.
Hard-hitting wreck brings out red flag at The Glen
Four cars were caught up in a wreck on Turn 5 of Lap 52 in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen on Sunday, which brought out the red flag at Watkins Glen International . The No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr . spun and careened across the track to start the incident. Stenhouse's car impacted with the interior wall, and then made contact with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson , the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Austin Dillon and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle . The Nos. 16, 17 and 48 did not return to the track. "We were just hustling hard on that restart and got loose over the curb and just kind of spun," Stenhouse Jr. said. "From that point we were just along for the ride. It looked like everybody scattered and it was probably pretty hard to see. We got hit pretty hard." Johnson was the one who did the hitting, but he didn't have much of a choice. " The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and the No. 17 was sitting there, stopped," Johnson said. "I remember seeing a door number and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door because I plowed him. I really hit the car hard. I was afraid that I might have injured him. But, thankfully he's OK and everybody is all right."
The Rundown: Watkins Glen driver grades
RELATED: Complete race results " Updated Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International : 1. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Six weeks after making a mistake on the final turn at Sonoma that cost him his first road-course victory, Hamlin triumphs at Watkins Glen . This time, he capitalized on the mistakes of others and led the final 10 laps for his second victory of the season. Grade: A+ 2. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Despite a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 34 and right-front damage, Logano worked his way back through the field for his fourth consecutive top 10 at Watkins Glen . Grade: A 3. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski and Kyle Busch restarted in the front row with 10 laps to go, but both overshot Turn 1 opening the door for Denny Hamlin . That wasn't Keselowski's final mistake. Running third entering the final turn, he turned second-place Martin Truex Jr . when a crossover move went awry. Grade: B 4. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Sunday was a day of extreme highs and lows for Allmendinger. A pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 26 cost him terrific track position. Then he just missed getting collected in the big wreck on Lap 54. But instead of being elated for tying a personal best with his second top five of the season, he was disconsolate after punting Kyle Larson just before the finish line. "I turned him," said Allmendinger, searching for words. "Not on purpose. ... I'm not very happy with myself on that. I don't want to do that, especially for fourth place at the end. … I just cost Kyle a good finish. I'm just pissed off at myself." More on Larson's 29th-place finish later. Grade: B 5. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Stewart posted his eighth top-five finish in his 16th and final start at Watkins Glen . It also was his fifth top five in his past seven starts. Stewart is smokin'. Grade: A 6. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Busch was in prime position to vie for his third victory at Watkins Glen when he restarted from the front row with 10 laps to go. Instead, he overshot the first turn along with race leader Brad Keselowski , handing an opportunity to Hamlin. Grade: A- 7. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex was running second coming to the final turn when he was turned by Brad Keselowski . The two talked after the race. "He said it was his fault," Truex said. "I said, 'I knew that.' Simple as that." Pretty much sums up Truex's sixth top 10 in 11 starts at Watkins Glen . Grade: A 8. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Big, big day for McMurray, whose finish -- his first top 10 at the Glen since 2010 -- was ahead of all his competition on the Chase bubble. Grade: A 9. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was another bubble winner. He climbed a spot in the Chase standings to 17th, but more important, he picked up 20 points on 16th-place Kyle Larson and now trails Larson by eight points with four races to go before the Chase field is set. Grade: A 10. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . How's this for tidy? Making his 600th start, Kenseth posted his 300th top 10. Grade: A 11. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Busch had a solid finish, but it was no match for his Olympic Team USA-inspired shoes. Grade: US-B 12. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears weaved his way through the carnage of the big wreck on Lap 54 to tie his best finish of the season (12th last month at Daytona). Grade: A 13. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott stemmed his recent string of bad finishes with his best finish since coming in second at Michigan two months ago. Grade: B 14. Jeff Gordon , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Gordon overcame heavy damage to the nose of the No. 88 on Lap 4 and later just missed getting collected by Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s spinning car in the big wreck on Lap 54 to post his second top 15 in three starts since coming out of retirement to sub for Dale Earnhardt Jr . Grade: B 15. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards started from the pole and led the first 25 laps but was hit with a penalty on his first pit stop for a wayward tire. Being deep in the field with a fast car is not where you want to be on a road course, and Edwards paid for it when he was collected in a wreck with 34 laps to go. Grade: B- 16. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman was running 20th on the restart after the sixth caution when the No. 31 got loose and spun out. Attrition helped Newman record his sixth top-16 finish in his past seven starts at Watkins Glen . Grade: B- 17. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . McDowell recorded his best finish in eight starts at Watkins Glen and his third-best finish this season. Grade: A 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Bowyer suffered front-end damage in a wreck with 34 laps to go but still posted one of his better finishes of the season. Grade: B 19. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney remained in the thick of the Chase race despite a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 22 and running off the track into the grass 20 laps later. Grade: C 20. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne simply was not competitive, and a penalty because the No. 5 crew was over the wall too soon on the first caution didn't help. But the numbers don't lie: Kahne spent a grand total of three laps in the top 15. Still, Kahne is only 10 points behind Kyle Larson for 16th in the Chase standings. Grade: C- 21. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick led a career-high 11 laps (previous best was seven at Talladega in October 2014), but she was running in her normal midpack position when she was caught up in Paul Menard 's dirt storm on Lap 84 and sustained heavy damage. Grade: B- 22. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Speaking of Menard ... the No. 27 team was penalized for throwing its fuel can on Lap 49, but the team's biggest faux pas came when its driver ran off the course on Lap 84 and spewed dirt onto the track, forcing enough cars behind him to drive blindly and lose grip to cause a seven-car wreck, bringing out the eighth caution and second red flag of the day. Grade: D 23. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Despite spinning out in the grass in the bus stop and bringing out the fifth caution for the debris he left on the track, Cassill tied his best finish at Watkins Glen . Grade: C 24. Boris Said , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . It wouldn't be Watkins Glen without Boris Said in the field. Making his 16th start at The Glen , Said posted his 10th top-25 finish. Grade: C 25. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Scott's first Sprint Cup start at Watkins Glen produced a better finish than the first Glen starts of Kyle Busch (33rd), Jeff Gordon (31st), Kurt Busch (29th) and Martin Truex Jr . (28th). That's something to hang your helmet on. Grade: B 26. Josh Wise , No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. Wise got his best finish in three starts at Watkins Glen . He finished 38th in the previous two (2012, 2014). Grade: B 27. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . A pit-road penalty on the No. 43 team for being over the wall too soon on the first pit stop and the wreck on Paul Menard 's dirt spray contributed to Almirola's worst finish at Watkins Glen since 2013. Grade: C- 28. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Witt could not improve on his 21st-place finish last year at Watkins Glen despite starting 22nd. Grade: C 29. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson was easily the biggest loser Sunday. He had a fourth-place finish in the bag until he was punted by AJ Allmendinger short of the finish line. Instead his car hit the wall and was destroyed. The 24-point difference between fifth and 29th has huge Chase implications. As it stands, Larson is 16th in the Chase standings but by a mere eight points over Trevor Bayne . And as far as moving up, Larson is 30 points behind Jamie McMurray instead of five. (Larson would have finished ahead of McMurray, dropping him to ninth Sunday.) As for the apologetic Allmendinger, he "has got a few coming," Larson said. Grade: A 30. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . A big mistake (pit-road penalty for tossing a fuel can) and bad luck (getting caught up in Paul Menard 's dirt storm) were tempered because the driver he's competing with for 30th in the points standings, David Ragan , also was collected in the Lap 84 wreck. At one point Sunday, Buescher was 13 points behind Ragan. Because of the wreck, he finished the day three back with four races remaining to get into the top 30 and qualify for the Chase. Grade: C 31. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Dillon was involved in two wrecks (Lap 4 and Lap 54), with the latter bringing out the first red flag and being a difference maker for the No. 3 team. When Dillon returned to the track, all the sheet metal from the front of the car was gone, but with a spot in the Chase on the line, every point matters. He dropped two spots to 14th in the Chase standings but caught a big break when Kyle Larson was wrecked. Dillon leads 16th-place Larson by 39 points. Grade: C- 32. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running third with 30 laps to go when he went to pit road because of a flat-spotted tire. He came out 33rd, the last car on the lead lap. The extra pit stop made him vulnerable to midpack mishaps, and that's exactly what happened when his car was destroyed in the wake of the Paul Menard dirt storm. Grade: C 33. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan was collected in two wrecks, with the final melee delivering a knockout blow. Ragan's welfare is of great importance to drivers on the Chase bubble. If Chris Buescher , with one win, replaces Ragan in 30th in the standings, the winless driver 16th in the Chase standings will need a win to qualify for the postseason. Grade: C 34. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Sunday wasn't one of DiBenedetto's better days. He sustained a pit-road penalty, went for a spin on the Lap 81 restart and then absorbed his sixth DNF of the season because of a crash when he was caught up in the Lap 84 mess. On the other hand, he spent the fourth-most laps running in the top 15 of the drivers who finished 21st through 40th. Grade: D 35. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Car woes limited Smith to 77 laps. Grade: D 36. Alex Kennedy , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Kennedy was caught up in the wreck that caused the fourth caution, and he brought out the sixth caution when his engine blew 20 laps later. Grade: F 37. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett was running at the finish, but brake issues limited him to 77 laps. Grade: F 38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse was driving aggressively after the restart following the second caution and touched off the big crash on Lap 53 when he lost control of his car coming out of the carrousel heading into Turn 6. The No. 17 hit the inside wall straight on and then took another big hit when Jimmie Johnson T-boned the car when it ricocheted back onto the track. Grade: F 39. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle's day ended in the big crash on Lap 53. He said he thought he had cleared Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s car but was hit from behind by Austin Dillon . Wrong place, wrong time. Grade: D 40. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson paid dearly for an early pit-road speeding penalty that put him in the back of the field when he was collected in the big wreck on Lap 53. It was Johnson's fourth DNF for a crash in the past nine races. Grade: F
Check out special TV coverage of NASCAR at Watkins Glen on USA Net
Friday, Aug. 5 9 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (re-air), NBCSN 10:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice (re-air), NBCSN Midnight, NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN Saturday, Aug. 6 2:30 a.m., NASCAR: The List - Iconic Cars (re-air), NBCSN Noon, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, CNBC 1:30 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Countdown, CNBC 2 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at The Glen , CNBC 4:30 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Post-Race Show, CNBC Sunday, Aug. 7 12:30 p.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FS2 2 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Countdown, USA 2:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at The Glen , USA 4 p.m., WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: Road America , FS1 5:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, USA Midnight, NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN TUNE-IN GUIDE Daytona Market: Brighthouse Cable USA Network: Channel 1238 NBCSN: Channel 1152 CNBC: Channel 1219 Charlotte Market: Time Warner Cable USA Network: Channel 101 NBCSN: Channel 314 CNBC: Channel 205 New York Market: Time Warner Cable USA Network: Channel 101 NBCSN: Channel 314 CNBC: Channel 205 Optimum Cable USA: Channel 38 NBCSN: Channel 212 CNBC: Channel 24 Verizon FIOS USA: Channel 550 NBCSN: Channel 590 CNBC: Channel 602 Los Angeles Market: Time Warner Cable USA Network: Channel 101 NBCSN: Channel 314 CNBC: Channel 85 National Carriers: DIRECTV USA Network: Channel 242 NBCSN: Channel 220 CNBC: Channel 355 Dish Network USA: Channel 105 NBCSN : Channel 159 CNBC: Channel 208 Verizon FIOS USA : Channel 550 NBCSN: Channel #590 CNBC: Channel 602 Top providers in top markets: DirecTV Dish USA CNBC NBCSN USA CNBC NBCSN New York 242 355 220 105 208 159 LA 242 355 220 105 208 159 Chicago 242 355 220 105 208 159 Philadelphia 242 355 220 105 208 159 Dallas/FtW 242 355 220 105 208 159 San Fran. 242 355 220 105 208 159 Boston 242 355 220 105 208 159 Wash., D.C. 242 355 220 105 208 159 Atlanta 242 355 220 105 208 159 Houston 242 355 220 105 208 159 Charlotte 242 355 220 105 208 159 Indianapolis 242 355 220 105 208 159 Daytona 242 355 220 105 208 159 Miami 242 355 220 105 208 159 Optimum Time Warner Cable USA CNBC NBCSN USA CNBC NBCSN New York 38 24 212 101 205 314 LA 101 205 314 Chicago Philadelphia Dallas/FtW 101 205 314 San Fran. Boston Wash., D.C. Atlanta Houston Charlotte 101 205 314 Indianapolis Daytona Miami ATT Uverse Brighthouse USA CNBC NBCSN USA CNBC NBCSN New York LA 1125 1216 1640 Chicago 1124 1216 1640 Philadelphia 1124 1216 1640 Dallas/FtW 1124 1216 1640 San Fran. 1125 1216 1640 Boston Wash., D.C. Atlanta 1124 1216 1640 Houston 1124 1216 1640 Charlotte 1124 1216 1640 Indianapolis 1124 1216 1640 1139 1305 1424 Daytona 1124 1216 1640 1238 1219 1152 Miami 1124 1216 1640 Fios XFINITY USA CNBC NBCSN USA CNBC NBCSN New York 550 602 590 LA Chicago 221 266 174 Philadelphia 550 602 590 823 819 848 Dallas/FtW San Fran. 738 762 723 Boston 550 602 590 835 795 865 Wash., D.C. 550 602 590 823 819 848 Atlanta 842 836 845 Houston 621 645 649 Charlotte Indianapolis 1205 1115 1607 Daytona Miami 420 470 448
Plenty of tests passed already for The Glen's new look
RELATED: See before and after photos of the Watkins Glen repave WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- The true test will come this weekend, but in some ways, the new pavement at Watkins Glen International has already had its share of trial runs -- both for the racing surface itself and the safety systems off it. A tire test in May, an organizational test last week, and now Friday's practice before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holds its final road course event of the season, Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (2:30 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM). But another true test came with getting the stamp of approval from the man in charge. "They knocked it out of the park," said Michael Printup, Watkins Glen International track president, lauding the collaborative effort to freshen the 2.45-mile circuit's layout, curbing and drainage. Besides all those laps logged, it's also had its safety measures put to the test with Brad Keselowski 's severe crash in Turn 1 during last Tuesday's opening test day. His Team Penske No. 2 Ford was totaled, and Keselowski escaped without injury. But the Sprint Cup champion was also critical in remarks last weekend at Pocono Raceway , saying that the inherent danger of the Glen's opening corner -- a sharp, 90-degree right-hander at the bottom of a hill -- was an accepted but steep risk with potentially dire consequences. Those comments struck a sour tone with Printup, who cited similar nose-first accidents in the same corner -- by Jimmie Johnson in 2000 and Denny Hamlin in 2011 -- where the safety system in place did its job. The track uses a combination of the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier system and tire-pack barriers in front of the Armco steel guardrails. "We're glad Brad walked away. We're not happy with the comments, to be blunt," Printup said this week. "I think we all believe he was out of line because if that was anything but Armco and tire barrier, it might've been -- as he put it -- the one out of 1,000. That is by far the best (barrier). … " At 90 degrees, the worst thing you can hit is SAFER, but it's only tube steel for 10 inches and then an 18-inch gap and then it's cement wall. That cement wall would've never have moved for Jimmie or Denny. Who knows what it could've been. But by far, I think Brad just doesn't understand the engineering part of it, and the engineers will tell you that at 90 degrees, tire barrier and Armco is by far the safest." Safety mechanisms were just part of the assessments made in the $12 million offseason project, which Printup said had been debated for at least five years before proceeding. The effect of New York's harsh winters and pounding from competition had yielded nearly annual patching projects. When engineers noticed an advanced degradation in the layers of the asphalt, Printup said the time had come. What ensued was a group effort between NASCAR, paving experts at Lane Construction, International Speedway Corporation and Watkins Glen's team. The result was an ultra-smooth surface that will host stock-car racing for the first time this weekend. "About a year ago, NASCAR really started to get into the foray of understanding the asphalt, said Jerry Kaproth, NASCAR's manager of race track infrastructure. "Otherwise, it's always been left to the experts to do their own thing independently. This is the first year we've really started to track some of that. The cooperation between the organizations has never been better and part of that is we have enough insight from our consultants to know a little bit and to ask the right questions." The early reviews -- muddled somewhat by the necessary use of a harder-compound Goodyear tire for durability's sake -- have been largely positive. Printup said that drivers participating in the tire test in May found no dramatic changes aside from the curbing layout in the bus-stop chicane on the backstretch. The curbs, he said, were rebuilt to the same specifications, but extended length-wise at the corner's entry. "You'll recall some of the exciting racing that's gone on in the bus stop where they're cutting the corners -- they're hitting dirt and grass, and it was getting dangerous because they were basically digging a hole, which then can upset the car or slice a tire," Printup said, adding that track crews were tasked with patching and refilling the gaps multiple times through a race weekend in the past. "It all adds up to the right thing to do." The recent repaving covered not just the 2.45-mile portion of the track used by NASCAR series, but also the 3.4-mile configuration that includes " The Boot" layout of turns used in IMSA and IndyCar events. Tony Stewart , readying for his final Watkins Glen start, raced the longer circuit during a ride-swap here with Formula One star Lewis Hamilton in 2011. After the experience, Printup said Stewart grabbed him by the shirt, saying, "Dude, we gotta race the boot." Printup said he's had informal discussions with NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell about making that happen. He said that one of the only drawbacks would potentially be a reduction in lap count to achieve the same distance, meaning drivers would make fewer appearances at the track's different vantage points, but said that as a self-professed "road course guy," he'd love to see the longer configuration get its own test. "I would love to take a hard look at that and see, can we do the K&N race, can we do XFINITY down there," Printup said. "I don't think it would be right to just jump to the (Sprint) Cup cars, in my opinion, but man, I would like to see sometime in my tenure, I would love to see NASCAR in one of those three or four series run the boot. I think it'd be great."
Hamlin earns first career road course win at Watkins Glen
RELATED: Results " Standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Hamlin gear WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. – Denny Hamlin , winner of Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen , entertained a sold-out grandstand with a celebratory burnout that trailed a plume of smoke the entire length of the frontstretch at Watkins Glen International . But Hamlin's smoke show — with a bad back, no less — paled in comparison to the fireworks that preceded the checkered flag, Hamlin's first at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road course. The race was in doubt until the final corner, with Martin Truex Jr . pressuring Hamlin, who led the final 10 laps after surging past Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in Turn 1 following a Lap 81 restart. RELATED: Second red flag brought out after another wild restart But Truex never got a chance to drag-race Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the finish line. As the cars neared the exit from Turn 7, with Truex running second and Keselowski third, contact from Keselowski's No. 2 Ford sent Truex's No. 78 Toyota spinning. Defending race winner Joey Logano took advantage of the melee to finish second ahead of Keselowski and 2014 Watkins Glen winner AJ Allmendinger , who knocked Kyle Larson off the track and into the inside barrier on the way to a fourth-place finish. Tony Stewart recovered from an early mistake—blowing the inner loop and losing 10 positions in the process—to finish fifth. Kyle Busch was sixth and Truex seventh after the last-lap spin. Hamlin won the race in pain, with nerve endings on fire in his back. "I just woke up with back spasms this morning," he explained. "Just hits me every three or four months or so. I just wake up and can't move. Really doubted being in the race car today, to be honest with you, but can't say enough about this whole FedEx Freight Toyota team. "Should've won both road courses (Hamlin was second to Stewart at Sonoma ), which is something we never would've predicted going into the year. Sold out crowd, two years in a row, this is a good time. I've finally won at all of the (types of) race tracks, so it's a great accomplishment for us." For the second-straight year, the Daytona 500 champion also has gone to Victory Lane at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen road course, with Hamlin joining 2015 winner Logano in that accomplishment. The victory was Hamlin’' second of the season and the 28th of his career, and though Hamlin was in a mood to celebrate, there were plenty of hurt feelings behind him. Keselowski took responsibility for the incident with Truex, who expressed his displeasure by banging fenders with the No. 2 car on the cool-down lap. "I got right up to the bumper of the 78 (Truex) and couldn't do anything there, and he made a move to get by the 11 (Hamlin) on the inside, and the 11 blocked him," Keselowski said. "I went high, and the 78 went high, and by then I was already deep in the corner and got into him and turned him. That was really unfortunate, and the last thing I wanted to see. "This track here, when you drive into the corner, you commit, and sometimes you don't know what will happen when you commit. The last thing I wanted to do was turn him. I'm proud of my guys for a really fast race car and it was another crazy Watkins Glen day." That craziness included eight cautions for 20 laps, four for multicar incidents in the final 38 laps. There were two yellows after Hamlin took the lead on Lap 81, when Kyle Busch and Keselowski ran wide in Turn 1, and Hamlin seized the moment. RELATED: Big wreck brings heavy damage to multiple cars at The Glen After the final restart on Lap 87 of 90, Truex stayed close to Hamlin, almost getting to the bumper of the No. 11 in the final corner before the contact from Keselowski turned him. The ensuing chaos allowed Hamlin to cross the finish line 2.065 seconds ahead of Logano for a victory that was nowhere near as comfortable as that margin might seem to indicate. It was an ending befitting a race track accustomed to wild racing. "Typical Watkins Glen ," Logano said. "I mean, it's just awesome, crazy racing, full contact. Just insane out there. So a lot of fun from the driver's seat and I'm sure the fans loved it as well in front of a sold out grandstand. It was pretty cool when I pulled over for the red flag in front of the grandstands and I could hear just fans screaming and yelling and loving it. I thought, 'Man, this is really cool to be in the driver's seat right now.' " </p>