RELATED: Fans of 'Smoke' support champion through highs and lows Tony Stewart says he’s trying not to think about the tragedy that kept the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion on the sidelines last year when the series last competed at Watkins Glen International . The series, and Stewart, return to the 2.45-mile road course this weekend for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). "Unfortunately I have a feeling it's going to get brought up a lot this week. It doesn't help you continue to move forward with it" Stewart told members of the media prior to Wednesday’s annual "Smoke Show" charity event at Texas Motor Speedway. On the eve of last year's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen , Stewart was involved in an on-track incident at Canandaigua (New York) Motorsports Park that claimed the life of Sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. Stewart, who was not charged for his role in the accident, sat out the next three Sprint Cup Series races. His Stewart-Haas Racing team continued to compete with driver Regan Smith piloting the No. 14 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen while veteran Jeff Burton replaced Stewart at Michigan International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. It marked the second consecutive season the three-time Sprint Cup champion did not compete at the Glen . Less than a week before the 2013 race, Stewart suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car race in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "I don’t think I'll ever be the same from what happened the last two years," Stewart said when asked if the incidents had changed him. "I don't know how you could be. "I don't know how anybody ever could be back to exactly the way they were. Not being back exactly the same as I was doesn't mean I haven't become better in some ways. I think there are always positives that come out of every scenario." Five of Stewart’s 48 career wins have come at Watkins Glen , the last in 2009. Thus far this year, he has struggled with a new rules package that has taken away horsepower and decreased downforce. He’s 25th in points heading into this weekend's event, with only five races remaining before the field is set for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . RELATED: Stewart's fifth win at Watkins Glen in #TBT While back-to-back top-five qualifying efforts have been a pleasant surprise, Stewart said he isn't ready to proclaim that he and the team have turned the corner. "It's been a decent couple of weeks," Stewart said. "I think it's a little early to put judgment on whether we've got it figured out or not. But at least we qualified well the last two weeks. That definitely has been a bonus for sure." His ninth-place finish last weekend at Pocono Raceway was just his second top-10 of the year. "We ran decent last week and I think that was a positive sign," he said, "but it's way too early to (tell). For moving the needle two weeks, that's a good thing … but I don't know that it means we've got it all figured out yet. "I think it's just too early to tell. … I wish I knew what to say. I'm not really sure yet. I'm not sure two weeks gives me a definitive answer." Teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch each have two wins this season while Stewart and teammate Danica Patrick have struggled to get a handle on the car and the rules package. Such gaps in the level of competition across the same organization have often left Stewart frustrated. "On one side it’s encouraging because you know that the organization’s capable of doing it," he said. "The other side of the coin is … you're frustrated because you can't figure it out yourself." Wednesday's event marked the eighth year Stewart has participated in the fundraiser, which benefits the Speedway Children's Charities Texas Chapter. Donors who spent the day taking part in activities similar to those experienced by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors on race day have raised approximately $1.5 million since the program’s inception. "I don't think we anticipated how it was going to grow," Stewart said of the event. "… It amazes me how many people have done it and keep coming back every year, keep supporting it. That's what's cool about it; it's great to see that kind of support for an event that's lasted that long. "They're the heroes of the day. They are the ones that have made it what it is. I just come along to have fun and have a good time with them."
RELATED: Practice 2 results Whirling his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 127.333 mph around Watkins Glen International , Jeff Gordon soared to the top of the leaderboard on his first lap during Friday's final Sprint Cup Series practice at the New York road course. The runner-up in all-time wins at the Glen with four trips to Victory Lane, Gordon will be one of several drivers looking to clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a win this weekend. Shortly after topping the final XFINITY practice, Kyle Larson returned to the race track to post the second-fastest speed (127.049 mph) in the field in his No. 42 Chip Ganassai Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Larson is one of a handful of Sprint Cup regulars who will attempt double-duty races at the road course this weekend. RELATED: Larson leads NXS practice at the Glen Roush Fenway Racing 's Greg Biffle (126.987 mph), Joe Gibbs Racing 's Kyle Busch (126.837 mph) and Team Penske 's Joey Logano (126.720 mph) rounded out the top five in the final session. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick made several mock qualifying runs during the second session, propelling his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at 126.348 mph to the ninth position on the leaderboard. With five wins at the New York track, Tony Stewart remains the all-time winner at Watkins Glen . During a mock qualifying run, "Smoke" propelled his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around the road course at 126.263 mph to rank 10th on the practice leaderboard. After coming up second on the leaderboard in the opening session with a high speed of 127.067 mph, AJ Allmendinger -- the reigning race winner at the Glen -- posted the 27th-fastest speed in the field in his JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet with a fast lap of 124.823 mph. After topping opening practice, Clint Bowyer slowed in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, recording a high speed of 124.401 mph for the 31st spot. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track at the Glen on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. ET for Coors Light Pole Qualifying (NBCSN/Live Extra). Bowyer leads opening practice RELATED: Practice 1 results A pair of former road-course winners looking to clinch a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , Clint Bowyer and AJ Allmendinger paced opening Sprint Cup Series practice at Watkins Glen International on Friday afternoon. Bowyer, winner of the 2012 Sonoma race, topped the session with a best speed of 127.067 mph, followed by last year's Watkins Glen winner in Allmendinger at 126.901 mph. Jimmie Johnson -- who has never won at the Glen in 13 career starts -- was third on the charts at 126.139 mph. Sam Hornish Jr . (126.095 mph) and Casey Mears (125.969 mph) rounded out the top five. Brad Keselowski , who once ran off three straight runner-up finishes at the Glen , was eighth-fastest at 125.419 mph. Another Sprint Cup practice is set to run later on Friday afternoon at 4:40 p.m. ET with coverage on NBCSN/Live Extra. http://www.nascar.com/en_us/sprint-cup-series/standings/results/2015/cheezit-355.raceResults.practice2.html
Our insider details the mentality behind backward pit stop Editor's note: Ben Steger is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit crew member and will provide first-person analysis and thoughts on that aspect of the sport for NASCAR.com. As all six over-the-wall crew members step up onto pit wall this weekend at Watkins Glen International in anticipation of an approaching pit stop, they'll do something they haven't done all year and won't do again for the remainder of the season: Look left. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series only gets the opportunity to turn right at road courses twice a season (Sonoma and Watkins Glen ). As we head into Watkins Glen , any bit of comfort that crews have built up over the first 21 races of the season goes out the door. When the car comes into its pit stall from the left side, it will create a complex, confusing and uncharacteristic backward pit stop. The most important part of pitting a car backward is having the correct mentality. Once each member of the crew is in position to do what they’ve done all year, muscle memory takes over and things should run smoothly. However, getting to that position -- and what you do in between -- is where the money is made. RELATED: Calculating fuel mileage at Watkins Glen Ninety percent or more of the crews will keep all of their guys in the same positions for the stop, having the front and rear tire changer/carrier combinations continue to service that part of the car. Here's a breakdown: • Tire changers: They will be running around the car opposite of the norm, and footwork will be important, as well as knowing they will pull their own tires on both sides of the car. Making sure that tire is under control after the pull will be key. They must also remember they can't hit three or four lug nuts this week. It will be five on, five off (hopefully) all afternoon. • Tire carriers: They still must get the front and rear tires back to the wall while under control, which will seem different from their normal routine, but other than that, things aren't too difficult. Executing adjustments and getting out of the way as they head over to the right side of the car will make for some headache, but for the most part their job stays the same. • Jackman: The jackman will still jump out in front of the car, only this time he's jacking the left side of the car first. He will then take the front tire that the tire changer has pulled off, and hand it off to the front carrier. His run around will be the tough part. Instead of running around to his right, he will run around to his left, and jack the right side of the car in an uncomfortable way. • Gasman: The gasman will have the same ground as normal to cover, as road course cars have the gas hole on the right side of the car instead of the typical left. However, plugging a 100-pound Sunoco gas can is quite difficult when it's from the opposite angle as normal. He will have to be aware of when the rear changer/carriers are coming around to the right side of the car and give the rear carrier space to squeeze in and put his tire on once the can has been engaged. So what are the curveballs? Adjustments. If the rear tire carrier has to do a left side adjustment, look for him to run out in front of the car with the jackman, as he won't have time to set an adjustment wrench if he runs around the back of the car with the changer. If he has a right side adjustment, the same challenge applies, as there just isn't much space to set a wrench, squeeze your body between the gasman and changer, and then put your tire on. Look for some gasmen to either do the adjustment for them on the right side, or at least set the wrench on the decklid for easier access for the rear tire carrier. At the end of the day, crews are still looking to beat their competitors, whether that be through play-call, strategy or sheer performance. Don't expect anything lightning fast Sunday. A solid, fundamentally sound (if that's possible backward) pit stop where all the lug nuts are tight and the car is full of gas in under 14 seconds is what most of the teams are looking for. With the potential of rain in Watkins Glen on Sunday afternoon, look for the same approach from the pit crews, with the emphasis on being careful and not hurting yourself. Remember, NASCAR has a "rain or shine" mentality when it comes to racing at road courses.
WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- It's been a sweet reunion for AJ Allmendinger and the world famous Watkins Glen International , site of the Californian's first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win last summer. "It was pretty cool driving in the race track yesterday when we got here and just kind of remembering the last time I was driving out of the race track," Allmendinger said. "The amount of joy that I had and just all the feelings and emotions that I had gone through -- those are memories that no matter what happens the rest of my life, I will always have." Allmendinger would really like to make more memories this weekend. The former open-wheel star knows very well it is his best chance to earn a second consecutive berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . His No. 47 Kroger/Bush's Beans Chevy was second fastest -- behind Clint Bowyer -- in Friday's opening practice around the windy and scenic 2.454-mile course in upstate New York. Four-time race winner Jeff Gordon topped the second practice, just faster than Kyle Larson . All four drivers are still looking for their first win of the year. RELATED: Practice results Allmendinger's popular victory at the Glen last year was all the sweeter because it landed him in the 16-driver Chase field. The only single-car team to make the playoffs, Allmendinger may have been considered a long shot to hoist the championship trophy, but at least he had a shot. One race -- this race -- made all the difference. "I feel like if we go out there and we perform at our best and we make all the right decisions, we will legitimately have a shot to win again," Allmendinger said. "That is all you can ask for." The reality is Allmendinger isn't the only road course ace that needs to win to score a Chase berth. The Glen's all-time winningest driver Tony Stewart (five victories) is 25th in the points standings and will need a victory to earn a Chase bid. The track's all-time lap leader, Gordon (262 laps), as well as former road course winners Bowyer and Kasey Kahne also still need a win to secure an automatic Chase bid. Bowyer and Kahne are a tenuous 15th and 16th in the points standings. It's the same situation for Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Jamie McMurray -- who has a road course win in the Rolex 24 sports car classic -- and Larson as both are also winless with only five races remaining to capitalize on the win-and-you're-in Chase format. And then there's the season four-time race winner Kyle Busch , who sits 13 points out of 30th place in the standings -- the threshold for a race winner to earn a position in the 16-driver Chase field. He's won twice at the Glen (2008, 2013). Does having so many successful road course drivers needing a victory ratchet up the competition on Sunday? Do they lean on other cars a little harder, block a little more, drive deeper into the corners? Gordon, a four-time Watkins Glen winner, said Friday, he definitely expects the intensity will increase this weekend. It's a radically different scenario for him than in 2014 when he had already won twice and was leading the points standings coming into this race. "That win means so much," Gordon said Friday. "Of course, it's important for us if we can't win this race to have a good solid points day and build that buffer (in the points). Our goal is to win and we feel like it's a great opportunity. "There are others that have a similar opportunity, too. This is definitely one of the last sort of "wild cards," you think of restrictor plate and road course races as being a wild card with a winner you might not necessarily expect." Even though he is considered a race favorite, Allmendinger is taking nothing for granted. "The thing I've learned about the Sprint Cup Series is it doesn't matter whether somebody needs a win or not, if the opportunity is there, he or she is going to go out there to do whatever they can to get the win," Allmendinger said. "I kind of laugh because everybody initially said, 'Oh, Marcus Ambrose isn't here so this should be easy for you.' I'm like, 'I'm not sure if you guys remember but Gordon was leading (last year's race) when he broke.' There are a lot of great race car drivers and you can't just single out one or two of them that are going to be tough. "It makes it a lot of fun. I know I have to go out there and be on my A-game to have a shot to win this thing." MORE: Allmendinger reflects on last year's win
RELATED: What 'Rowdy' needs to make Chase Kyle Busch came up short in his attempt to win four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota running out of fuel on the final lap of Sunday's Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway. Twelve drivers have won four or more consecutive premier series races. NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough was the first, in 1976. Six-time series champ Jimmie Johnson was the most recent, in 2007. And then there was Billy Wade. Notable here because Wade's fourth and final win came in 1964 at Watkins Glen International , site of this weekend's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Driving for car owner Bud Moore, Wade strung together wins at Old Bridge (N.J.) Stadium, a half-mile oval; Bridgehampton (N.Y.) Raceway, a 2.85-mile road course; Islip (N.Y.) Speedway, which measured a mere two-tenths of a mile; and Watkins Glen . The stops were part of what was known as the "northern tour" for the series at that time; the four races came in a span of 10 days. Wade's success came against some of the series' toughest competition of the day. At Old Bridge, he outlasted Ned Jarrett; two days later he held off two-time series champ Buck Baker; on Wednesday evening he bested Jarrett once more; and on the following Sunday, Wade beat LeeRoy Yarbrough to the checkered flag. Lee and Richard Petty, David Pearson and Marvin Panch were among those also in the field for the four races. A native of Houston, Wade had won the NASCAR Rookie of the Year title the previous year, tops among a group that included Bobby Isaac, Larry Manning and J.D. McDuffie. Three of his four wins during the streak came from the pole position, including the victory at Watkins Glen . Although he competed in only 35 of the season's 62 events, Wade finished a career-best fourth in the final points standings. Sadly, those were the only victories of Wade's brief NASCAR career. Less than a year later, the 34-year-old was killed during a January 1965 tire test at Daytona International Speedway when his Mercury blew a right-front tire and slammed into the wall. According to reports, the wall had been built barely a month earlier as a safety measure to keep cars inside the 2.5-mile track. Wade was the fourth driver to lose his life on the track in less than a year's time. Two-time series champ Joe Weatherly was killed in a crash the previous January while racing at Riverside (Calif.) Raceway; Glenn "Fireball" Roberts died in July of '64 as a result of injuries suffered in a crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier that season; and Jim Pardue, twice a winner, was killed when he crashed at CMS during a Sept. tire test in '64. Such tragedies did spur safety developments in the sport, such as the driver's side window net, the inner liner for tires and the fuel cell. Similar safety developments continue today, and were in evidence this past weekend at Pocono. When Brad Keselowski slid through his pit box during the race, he sent his crew scrambling. Jackman Braxton Bannon was upended and landed on his back; front tire carrier Jeremy Ogles, headed around the front of the car, managed to leap onto the hood of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. No one was injured, and the crew, wearing helmets, managed to complete the pit stop. WATCH: Pocono pit problems for Keselowski Since 2002, NASCAR has required crewmen going over the wall to service a vehicle on pit road in all three national series, Sprint Cup , XFINITY and Camping World Truck s, to wear a helmet. More than a decade earlier, in 1991, pit road speed limits had been put into place. The action was taken after a crewman, Mike Rich, was killed on pit road at Atlanta in the season-ending race of 1990. Limiting pit road speed doesn't eliminate the danger, as the Keselowski incident clearly revealed. But it has, fortunately, lessened it considerably.
RELATED: Practice 1 results " Final practice results Kyle Larson led the way in final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice Friday afternoon, putting the HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet atop the leaderboard at Watkins Glen International . Larson, a Sprint Cup regular with two XFINITY wins in his career, turned a lap of 123.623 mph late in the 57-minute session, which was extended two minutes past its scheduled window by NASCAR officials. His lap was slightly more than eight-tenths of a second better than second-fastest Joey Logano , who clocked a 122.223-mph lap in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford and was fastest in opening practice. Paul Menard was third-fastest 122.201 mph in the Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet in a 1-2-3 sweep by Sprint Cup regulars. Ty Dillon was fourth-fastest in another Childress Chevy, just ahead of fifth-best Brad Keselowski in the other Penske entry, the No. 22 Ford. Defending series champion Chase Elliott managed just the 18th-fastest lap at 119.444 mph, but dealt with mechanical trouble when his JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet slowed on the frontstretch midway through practice. "I think the rear end locked up on it," Elliott told his crew. "May have been a fluid issue with it. I don't think I missed any shifts." Series points leader Chris Buescher was sixth-fastest in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 60 Ford. Daniel Suarez , who severely damaged his primary Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota during a crash in opening practice, was 11th-fastest. His lap was just one spot better than JGR teammate Boris Said , a veteran road racing making his third XFINITY start of the season. NASCAR officials added two minutes to final practice because of two late-session instances of stalled cars -- one for Eric McClure 's No. 24 and another for Tomy Drissi 's No. 26. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET (CNBC) . Logano sets early pace; heavy crash early hits Suarez Joey Logano sailed to the top of the leaderboard Friday afternoon in opening NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Watkins Glen International . Logano drove the Team Penske No. 12 Ford to a fast lap of 122.452 mph on the 2.45-mile road course in preparation for Saturday's Zippo 200 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM), the 20th of 33 races this season. His lap was just slightly better than second-fastest Brad Keselowski , his Penske teammate who registered an 122.286 mph lap in the No. 22 Ford. Brendan Gaughan was third-fastest and Paul Menard fourth-best in a pair of Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets. Kyle Larson completed the top five. The 85-minute first session was marked by a severe crash for rookie Daniel Suarez in the early going. Suarez lost control of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota at the exit of the bus-stop chicane, sliding off course and hard into the Turn 5 barrier. The 23-year-old Suarez was uninjured, but the force of the impact lifted the No. 18 entry off the ground. His crew prepared his backup car in time for him to return to the track at the tail end of the practice. "When I got to that part of the race track, I was a little bit too loose on entry," Suarez said. "Like I say, it was my first lap with speed and it looks like it was a pretty hard hit. I just wasn't able to handle that little loop because it was getting worse and worse and worse, and I wasn't able to put the car back straight. I'm just disappointed with myself because it was very, very early. Hopefully we can get back to the race track to make up some ground." Aside from Suarez's wreck, the session was marked by a handful of harmless solo spins. John Wes Townley and Todd Bodine both looped their cars in Turn 7, near the track's pit entrance. Keselowski overshot the chicane, putting all four wheels in the grass before Turn 5. XFINITY Series points leader Chris Buescher was sixth-fastest in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 60 Ford. Boris Said , the 52-year-old road racing expert, was ninth-fastest in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota as he readies for his third XFINITY Series start of the year. Final XFINITY practice is scheduled from 3:30-4:25 p.m. ET (NBCSN), with Coors Light Pole Qualifying set for Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET (CNBC).
WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- Bubba Wallace had one of those days Saturday at Watkins Glen International . The Roush Fenway Racing driver, trying to make up ground on teammate and points leader Chris Buescher , lost track position early during the Zippo 200 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and battled back -- and then hit a squirrel. The incident didn’t improve the aerodynamics of the No. 6 Ford. It did leave a bit of a mess on the front of the car. "Yeah, I hit a squirrel," Wallace said as his team began prepping the entry for the long trip back to Concord, North Carolina. "I saw it (run out). Hit it. I knew I hit it." Crewmen removed the remains during the team’s last pit stop. Wallace was penalized after his first pit stop for speeding as he exited pit road on Lap 19. As a result, he had to make another trip down pit road and lost track position. "That was my worst pit road ever," he radioed his crew afterward. He was punished for excessive pit road speed and having too many crew members in contact with the pit service area. He was not penalized for hitting the squirrel. Wallace finished 16th and sits sixth in the points standings after 20 races.
RELATED: Updated series standings " Latest Chase Grid With only four races left until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , it's time to check up on Kyle Busch , driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing , as he tries to rebound from early-season injuries and make the Chase. He is currently the only driver with multiple wins who has yet to clinch a spot in the Chase. WHAT JUST HAPPENED: After starting the Watkins Glen race in the eighth spot, Kyle Busch finished second at the Cheez-It 355 -- his fifth top five at the Glen . With Kevin Harvick on the losing side of a fuel strategy on the white-flag lap, Busch snagged the runner-up position at the road course. "Rowdy," who led three laps, entered the top 30 with his second-place finish. Despite getting into the top 30, this does not secure a Chase spot. WHAT HE NEEDS: With four wins this season, Busch still needs to stay in the top 30 in the standings and be able to start the remaining regular-season races to be eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . With four races to go before Chicagoland, Busch is unofficially in 30th place. He is six points ahead of Cole Whitt , who currently sits in 31st. WHAT'S NEXT: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is headed to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400 . In 21 starts there, Busch has one win, four top fives, 6 top 10s and one pole. His victory at Michigan came in 2011's Pure Michigan 400 . The last time he raced at Michigan was back in June for the Quicken Loans 400 , where he finished in 43rd after a crash on Turn 4 while on Lap 53.
Jeff Burton takes the Toyota Camry Test Car around Watkins Glen International to discuss the difficulties of the road course.
NASCAR.com analyst Chris Rice and Marty Snider preview all the action this weekend as the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to Watkins Glen International for the first time in the 2015 season.