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
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: 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.
What : Cheez-It 355 at The Glen . Where : 2.454-mile road course in Watkins Glen , New York When : Sunday, Aug. 9; 2 p.m. ET. TV/Radio : NBCSN, MRN Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Distance : 220.5 miles, 90 laps. Pit road speed : 40 mph. Caution car speed : 45 mph. Fuel window : 33 laps. On the front row " See the full lineup Defending race winner AJ Allmendinger (127.839 mph) won his first Watkins Glen pole position besting fellow Chevrolet driver Martin Truex Jr . The top 10 qualifiers were separated by less than six-tenths of a second. It's Allmendinger's fourth career Sprint Cup Series pole. He also was the top qualifier at the Sonoma, California, road course in June. Kyle Busch is the last driver to win at the Glen from the pole position (2008) Fastest in practice : Four-time race winner Jeff Gordon was fastest in final practice just ahead of second-year driver Kyle Larson , Greg Biffle and two-time Glen winner Kyle Busch . Another former road course winner Clint Bowyer (Sonoma, 2012) led opening practice ahead of defending race winner Allmendinger. Busch and Sam Hornish Jr . were the only drivers to post top-10 laps in both sessions. Last year's winner : Allmendinger's thrilling victory last year in this race was his first and still only one in his Sprint Cup career, earning him and the single-car JTG Daugherty organization its first championship berth. The former open-wheel star is always considered the pre-race favorite at the two Cup road courses and was second fastest in opening practice en route to claiming his first pole position here. This year he won't have his great nemesis Marcos Ambrose to battle with up front as Ambrose returned to his native Australia to race this season. However, there are a lot of hungry non-winners this week who are widely considered road course aces. Gordon, Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and the Glen's all-time winningest driver Tony Stewart lead that charge. On the line : Five races remain to set the 16-car Chase field and the intensity is noticeably amped in the garage. Jamie McMurray leads the list of non-winners still ranked safely among the top 16 in the standings. Bowyer and Kahne are ranked 15th and 16th with only a 25-point cushion for Kahne while Larson (19th) and Stewart (25th) are further behind in points and may need to rely on a victory to get in the Chase. Of those drivers currently ranked among the top 16, only Harvick and Gordon have ever won at Watkins Glen . Four-time 2015 winner Kyle Busch sits only 13 points out of 30th-place, the minimum points position a winner must be ranked to qualify for the Chase. Just own it : Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are currently tied with six wins apiece in this race -- double that of any other organization. However, JGR driver Kyle Busch 's win in 2013 is the only time that one of those two teams has won here in the last six years. A victory by one of the four Hendrick drivers would deliver Chevrolet its 750th Cup win. A victory by one of the four Gibbs drivers would give Toyota its 13th win in the last 17 NASCAR national series races. Road Course Masters " RELATED: Read more about Gordon's ascent Two of NASCAR's most celebrated champions -- Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon -- also happen to be two of the sport's most accomplished road racers. Tony Stewart is Watkins Glen's all-time winningest driver with five victories, his seven top fives the most of any active driver. He'll start his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy a season-best third on Sunday. Gordon, NASCAR's most successful road course driver with nine career wins, has four at Watkins Glen and is the all-time leader in laps led (262) here. He'll start fifth in the Cheez-It 355 -- the final road course race in Gordon's final season of Cup competition. Nuts and Bolts : Dale Earnhardt Jr . is still looking for his first road course win and should it happen this weekend, it would be a big reversal of fortune for the sport's Most Popular Driver. His 22.4 average finish at the Glen is the worst among the top-16 drivers in points. He has only three top-10 finishes yet two DNFs in 15 starts here. Qualifying is hugely important at the Glen . Nine of the 32 races have been won by the pole sitter, 65 percent of race winners have come from a top-five starting position. Steve Park's 2000 victory from the 18th starting position is the farthest of any race winner. Brad Keselowski and retired driver Mark Martin hold the record for runner-up finishes at the Glen with three each. Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth hold the record for most starts (15) without a win. They said it : "We’re all road course ringers these days. It’s amazing how smart this garage is and how great these competitors are." -- Jimmie Johnson , driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. "I look forward to these races. I always do every year. It's kind of fun, a weekend 'off' from the oval stuff. Love the opportunity to turn right, turn left, and have some shifting going on. You try to make the most of it and have some fun with it and come out of here with some decent finishes. Over the years we've run real well here at Watkins Glen . I'm really optimistic about being here this weekend.'' -- Kyle Busch , driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota and winner of the season's other road course race in Sonoma, California, in June.
RELATED: See Sunday's full lineup WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- AJ Allmendinger would like nothing better than a good, strong case of déjà vu. "Hopefully, we're reliving last year," Allmendinger said after putting his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet on the pole for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Last year the road-course ace barged into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by winning at Watkins Glen from the sixth starting position. On Saturday at the 2.45-mile road course, Allmendinger posted the only sub-69-second lap (1:08.993) to win the pole at 127.839 mph, edging Martin Truex Jr . (127.569 mph) for the top starting spot in the 22nd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. Tony Stewart (127.481 mph) qualified third, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick (127.416 mph) and four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon (127.181 mph), who is making his final start at the New York road course as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. The Coors Light Pole Award was the fourth of Allmendinger's career, his first at Watkins Glen and his second of the season -- and it marked a dramatic turnaround from a disappointing final practice on Friday afternoon, when Allmendinger was 28th on the speed chart. "I didn't do a good job (on Friday)," Allmendinger said. "They saved me. They gave me a good race car… I don't know if I'll sleep any better tonight, but I'll be ready for tomorrow." As he tries for a repeat performance, Allmendinger will have a familiar chassis under him. "It's the same car we ran last year, the same car we ran at Sonoma," said Allmendinger, who also won the pole for the West Coast road course race in June. "But they put a lot more work into it over the winter to make sure it was lighter, we got the right tools that we needed into the car to make it faster." Clearly, there's pressure on Allmendinger to qualify for the Chase, but most of it is self-generated. "There isn't any more pressure than I put on myself," he said. "These guys (his team) deserve it. I want to lift them on my shoulders and carry them to Victory Lane. Last year was special and it just makes you want to do it more and more. "But the outside, there ain't nothing there (in terms of pressure). It's all inside here that I put the pressure on myself, and I'm going to go try to make it happen. These guys deserve it." Kyle Larson , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Busch , Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon will start from positions six through 10 on the grid.
As you watch NBCSN's coverage at Watkins Glen this weekend, here's a visual aid to help with the road course's layout. The top map is the full 11-turn layout and its key phrases. The bottom map is the seven-turn configuration that NASCAR uses. One term you'll hear on broadcast that isn't explicitly noted above is the "bus stop" -- that's the dip between Turns 4 and 5, otherwise known as the inner loop. Other fun facts to keep in mind this weekend: Watkins Glen is 2.45 miles long, and Tony Stewart has the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins there with a total of five. For full coverage of the race, click here.
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings WATKINS GLEN , N.Y. -- Penalty? So what? Polesitter Joey Logano shook off a pit road infraction that sent him to the back of the field early in Saturday’s Zippo 200 at The Glen . But by the end of the NASCAR XFINITY Series race, Logano’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford was comfortably at the front of the field. The only other car that was close was the No. 22 of teammate Brad Keselowski , who recovered from a pit road speeding penalty to finish second. "Everything went as planned," said Logano, who was penalized for dragging a fuel can from his pit stall after a green-flag stop on Lap 20 of 82. "It was fun to have a car that was that fast, out there racing these guys and racing your teammate there for the win. It shows a lot about our organization." Logano was 22nd when he restarted on Lap 27 after NASCAR threw the second caution of the race to retrieve the errant fuel can. With the help of two quick cautions, he drove quickly to the front, and on Lap 49, Logano passed Keselowski for the lead, drag-racing his teammate from the exit of Turn 7 to the start/finish line and clearing him through Turn 1. "I knew my car was fast enough to get there," Logano said of the quick run to the front. "I didn’t know if I was going to run them all down in that one run like that. I didn’t think that would happen, but it showed a lot of strength in our race car." It was the first road course victory for Logano in any of NASCAR’s top series. "I’ve been so close to winning with the 22 team on the (Sprint) Cup side and this XFINITY team has been close to winning here lately, so it’s nice to get Team Penske back in Victory Lane," said Logano, who had Sprint Cup crew chief Todd Gordon calling the race and his Sprint Cup crew servicing the car on pit road to gain experience for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the 22nd race on the Cup schedule. If Logano and Keselowski dominated at the front of the field, leading 39 and 40 laps, respectively, behind them was chaos. XFINITY Series title contender Regan Smith suffered the brunt of the damage, getting the short end of run-ins with both Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan . Smith came home 20th and lost 18 points to XFINITY Series leader Chris Buescher , who finished third. After stopping by Gaughan’s car for a few words post-race, Smith headed for Dillon. The argument started to get physical, before NASCAR officials and crew members separated the drivers. Dillon admitted making two mistakes during the race, the first of which spun Smith’s JR Motorsports Chevrolet after a restart on Lap 40. What Dillon didn’t countenance was a threat from Smith. "He said he was going to wreck me -- we’ll see," Dillon said. "I took the blame for it, but he came down here picking a fight. That’s a different game." After the altercation, Smith repeated the promise to reporters. "I got dumped in Turn 1," Smith said. "It was pretty plain and simple. I don’t think I’m the only one he dumped today … I guarantee you, I might have lost the championship today, but he did, too. There’s no chance that 3 car wins the championship, and I’m going to make sure of it." Substituting for Kyle Busch , who opted not to run the race in favor of staying fresh for Sunday’s Cup race, road course ace Boris Said finished fourth, followed by Dillon and Brian Scott . Buescher extended his series lead to 24 points over Dillon and seventh-place finisher Chase Elliott . Smith is fourth in the standings, now 57 points behind Buescher. Information provided by NASCAR Wire Service