Cheez-It 355 at The Glen

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen

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With multiple teams having targeted Watkins Glen International as an opportunity to make the Chase, Sunday’s Cheez-It 355K at the New York State road course is shaping up to be quite a race.

Obviously, this is a big one for guys like Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, A.J. Allmendinger, and Martin Truex Jr., who are all buried so far down in the standings to the point where they’re not making the post-season without a win.

Meanwhile, winless drivers Matt Kenseth (+78 points above 16th) and Ryan Newman (+52 points above 16th) still have good holds on the 12 and 13 seeds in the Chase Grid.

However, behind them are five drivers – Clint Bowyer in 14th, Kyle Larson in 15th, Greg Biffle in 16th, Kasey Kahne in 17th, and Austin Dillon in 18th – that are separated by just 29 points.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the notes and numbers to keep in mind as we head into Round 22 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series…

WATKINS GLEN-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 9.2
· Average Running Position of 13.5, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.7, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.842 mph, seventh-fastest

Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 STANLEY Ford)
· Two wins, five top fives, five top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 6.8
· Average Running Position of 8.6, second-best
· Driver Rating of 120.1, second-best
· Series-high 125 Fastest Laps Run
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 120.616 mph
· 425 Laps in the Top 15 (78.4%), 10th-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· One top five, five top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 19.8
· Driver Rating of 91.8, 10th-best
· 47 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· 364 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.901 mph, sixth-fastest
· 475 Laps in the Top 15 (58.4%), eighth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· Two wins, four top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 8.1
· Average Running Position of 10.0, third-best
· Driver Rating of 113.3, third-best
· 72 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 120.107 mph, fourth-fastest
· 616 Laps in the Top 15 (75.7%), third-most
· 175 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Kelloggs/Cheez-it Ford)
· Four top fives, six top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 8.8
· Average Running Position of 12.6, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.6, eighth-best
· 15 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 405 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.630 mph, ninth-fastest
· 588 Laps in the Top 15 (72.2%), fourth-most
· 178 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota)
· One top five, four top 10s
· Average finish of 19.5
· Average Running Position of 15.5, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.0, 12th-best
· 11 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· 374 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.598 mph, 10th-fastest
· 416 Laps in the Top 15 (57.6%), 11th-most
· 158 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One win, two top fives, six top 10s
· Average finish of 13.1
· Average Running Position of 15.7, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 88.3, 11th-best
· 10 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 390 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.442 mph, 11th-fastest
· 480 Laps in the Top 15 (59.0%), seventh-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· Four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.8
· Average Running Position of 10.2, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 100.6, sixth-best
· 27 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.971 mph, fifth-fastest
· 637 Laps in the Top 15 (78.3%), second-most
· 188 Quality Passes, second-most

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· Three top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 6.5
· Average Running Position of 12.1, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 102.8, fifth-best
· 29 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.842 mph, eighth-fastest

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Code 3/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Five wins, seven top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 7.9
· Series-best Average Running Position of 5.7
· Series-best Driver Rating of 120.4
· 106 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 120.465 mph, second-fastest
· Series-high 678 Laps in the Top 15 (93.6%)
· Series-high 195 Quality Passes

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· Three top fives, five top 10s
· Average finish of 12.4
· Average Running Position of 12.0, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.8, ninth-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 119.400 mph, 12th-fastest
· 519 Laps in the Top 15 (71.9%), sixth-most
· 179 Quality Passes, third-most

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Watkins Glen International Data
Season Race #: 22 of 36 (08-10-14)
Track Size: 2.45-miles
Number of Turns: 7
Race Length: 90 laps / 220.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Watkins Glen
Tony Stewart……………………….. 120.4
Marcos Ambrose………………….. 120.1
Kyle Busch…………………………. 113.3
Juan Pablo Montoya…………….. 110.5
Brad Keselowski………………….. 102.8
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 100.6
AJ Allmendinger…………………….. 94.7
Carl Edwards………………………… 94.6
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 92.8
Kurt Busch……………………………. 91.8
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (nine total) among active drivers at Watkins Glen International.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light Pole winner: Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 128.241 mph, 68.777 secs., 08-09-13
2013 race winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 87.001 mph, (02:32:04), 08-11-13
Track qualifying record: Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 128.241 mph, 68.777 secs., 08-09-13
Track race record: Mark Martin, Ford, 103.030 mph, (02:11:54), 08-13-95

Watkins Glen History
· After several events were held on the streets of Watkins Glen, a permanent facility was opened in 1956.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was in 1957, won by Buck Baker (83.064 mph, 8/4/57).
· After a six-year absence, NASCAR returned to The Glen in 1964 and 1965.
· After a 21-year absence, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to The Glen, and has run one race a year there since 1986.

Watkins Glen Notebook
· There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen International, one race per season.
· The first NSCS race at Watkins Glen was scheduled for 101.2-miles in 1957, the second race was 161.7-miles (1964) and the third race was 151.8-miles (1965). Every race since has been scheduled for 220.5-miles.
· 252 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen; 152 in more than one.
· Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip and Terry Labonte lead the series in starts at Watkins Glen with 22 each. Jeff Gordon leads the series among full-time active drivers with 21.
· Buck Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Watkins Glen in 1957 with a speed of 87.071 mph. Driver/owner Buck Baker went on to win the inaugural race from the pole.
· 19 drivers have Coors Light poles at Watkins Glen, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin with three each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with two.
· Mark Martin is the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to post consecutive Coors Light poles at Watkins Glen (three) – 1993, 1994, and 1995.
· Youngest Watkins Glen pole winner: Kyle Busch (08/15/2011 – 26 years, 3 months, 13 days).
· Oldest Watkins Glen pole winner: Morgan Shepherd (08/13/1989 – 47 years, 10 months, 1 day).
· 18 different drivers have won at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, led by Tony Stewart with five wins.
· Jeff Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in road course wins with nine (Sonoma, five; Watkins Glen, four); Tony Stewart has the second most road course wins all-time with seven (Watkins Glen, five; Sonoma, two).
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison holds the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record for the most wins at a single road course track with six – Riverside International Raceway.
· Four drivers have posted consecutive wins at Watkins Glen, including three consecutive by Mark Martin (1993, ’94, ‘95) and Jeff Gordon (1997, ’98, ‘99). The other two drivers to win consecutive races at Watkins Glen are Tony Stewart (2004, ’05) and Marcos Ambrose (2011, ’12).
· Youngest Watkins Glen winner: Kyle Busch (08/10/2008 – 23 years, 3 months, 8 days).
· Oldest Watkins Glen winner: Geoff Bodine (08/11/1996 – 47 years, 3 months, 24 days).
· Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are tied for themost wins at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six:
o Hendrick Motorsports: Jeff Gordon (four), Tim Richmond (one) and Ricky Rudd (one).
o Joe Gibbs Racing: Tony Stewart (four) and Kyle Busch (two).
· Six different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Watkins Glen; led by Chevrolet with 16 victories; followed by Ford with seven, Pontiac with four, Toyota with two and Buick and Mercury each have one.
· Nine of the 31 (29%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kyle Busch in 2008.
· The Coors Light pole position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (nine) than any other starting position at Watkins Glen.
· 11 of the 31 (35.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen have been won from the front row: nine from the pole and two from second-place.
· 21 of the 31 (67.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen have been won from a top-five starting position.
· 22 of the 31 (70.9%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· None of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Watkins Glen was 18th, by Steve Park in the 2000.
· Brad Keselowski and Mark Martin lead the series in runner-up finishes at Watkins Glen with three each.
· Mark Martin leads the series in top-five finishes at Watkins Glen with 12; followed by Ricky Rudd with eight. Tony Stewart leads all active drivers with seven.
· Mark Martin leads the series in top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen with 16; followed by Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart with 10 each.
· Tony Stewart leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Watkins Glen with a 6.286.
· Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Watkins Glen with a 6.500.
· All five of the active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Watkins Glen participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane.
· Kevin Harvick (2006) competed at Watkins Glen five times each before winning; the longest span of any the five active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen without visiting Victory Lane at 18. Nemechek is followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth with 14 each.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen is the 2001 race won by Jeff Gordon over Jeff Burton with a MOV of 0.172 second.
· There have been two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Watkins Glen (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): 2005 (90/92) and 2011 (90/92).
· Only one of the 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen has been shortened due to weather conditions – the 1992 race – only 51 of the scheduled 90 laps were completed.
· The 8/14/2011 race was the only NSCS race at Watkins Glen that has been postponed to another date due to weather (8/15/2011).
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen six times; most recently in 2008.
· One active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has posted his first career win at Watkins Glen: Marcos Ambrose (08/15/11).
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Watkins Glen with 233 laps led in 21 starts.
· Danica Patrick and Patty Moise are the only two female NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers to compete at Watkins Glen International.
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NASCAR in New York
· There have been 66 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among 15 tracks in the state of New York.
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· 185 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as New York; 11 of them have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
· Only two of the New York natives have won at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – Geoff Bodine (1996) and Steve Park (2000).
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Nobuharu Matsushita to remain in GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4660
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Nobuharu Matsushita will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season after agreeing a new deal with defending champions ART Grand Prix.

Matsushita made his GP2 debut in 2015 with ART, racing alongside Stoffel Vandoorne who ultimately won the drivers’ title in record-breaking fashion.

Matsushita finished ninth in the final drivers’ standings with one race win to his name, and is now gunning to battle for the championship in his second year with ART.

“I would like to thank Honda and ART Grand Prix for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in GP2 Series,” Matsushita said.

“ART Grand Prix won the championships last year, and I am so honored to be part of such an amazing team again. As a member of HFDP, Honda Formula Dream Project, aiming to be the top-world-class driver, I will give my best to win the drivers and the team championship in my second GP2 season.”

Matsushita will race alongside Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin at ART in 2016, with the Russian driver moving from Rapax for his sophomore year in the series.

“I am truly delighted to start our third year of partnership together with Honda with this reinforcement of our collaboration,” ART team boss Sebastien Philippe said.

“Nobuharu will partner Sergey Sirotkin in the GP2 Series. He had an incredible year in 2015 when he did not know Europe or the championship, the team and the car, but nevertheless he secured one win, several podiums and made massive improvements all year long.

“As a driver and on a personal level, we have no doubt at all that he has all the assets needed to fight for the title in 2016.”

NHRA: Lots of change heading into this weekend’s season-opening Winternationals

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Last season, the National Hot Rod Association adopted a “#BaptismByNitro” theme to attract new fans and attention to the sport.

But as it kicks off the new season with this weekend’s Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California,  if the NHRA were to come up with a new theme song for 2016, it’d likely be the old Scorpions ballad “Winds Of Change.”

Change – and positive change at that – seems to be all around in the wind for the NHRA, including:

* Peter Clifford begins his first full season as NHRA president (he replaced the retired Tom Compton last June). Clifford has made a number of dynamic hires in an effort to improve the sanctioning body’s reach and attractiveness to fans.

* The NHRA has embarked upon one of its most ambitious marketing and communications initiatives ever to increase fan attention and attendance at events, including the hiring of veteran motorsports reporter Terry Blount late last season as new vice president of communications.

* Another significant hire is Emmy award-winning Ken Adelson as vice president of broadcasting and digital content to supercharge the NHRA’s TV and digital sides.

* Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 has become the official TV partner of the sport, with plans to televise live the majority of the 24 races this season, including expected three-hour presentations of final eliminations on Sundays. In addition, former Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon embarks upon a new career as a NHRA TV analyst.

* New rules in Pro Stock, including the long-awaited implementation of electronic fuel injection and the removal of long-standing monster hood scoops, should inject life into a class that had grown somewhat stagnant to fans in recent years.

* After becoming the first back-to-back female champion in any NHRA pro categories, Pro Stock queen Erica Enders goes for three straight titles this season.

* Fan favorite and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlan returns to the sport on a full-time basis after racing part-time last season.

* After enduring what he called his “worst season in 25 years” in 2015, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force is bound and determined to earn title No. 17 in 2016. The ageless Force (66 years old) told MotorSportsTalk that he feels as invigorated as he’s ever been and looks forward to significantly improve from last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.

* In addition, Force will have long-time crew chief Austin Coil “helping out” in an unofficial capacity for Force’s Funny Car, as well as those of son-in-law and John Force Racing team president Robert Hight and Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney.

* John Force Racing also scored another coup in the offseason by hiring 11-time Top Fuel champion team owner/crew chief Alan Johnson as a consultant to oversee the Top Fuel efforts of driver Brittany Force. Judging by some of the runs Force had during last weekend’s preseason testing for nitro cars at Phoenix, not only does she seem likely to earn her first career win, she also is an early possible contender for the championship.

* Defending pro class champions are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

And those changes are just for starters. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the NHRA is poised for increased growth and notoriety in 2016.

While the sanctioning body still has not capitulated to what many fans want – the return of full quarter-mile drag strip racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car competition (the standard remains 1,000 feet for 2016) – the changes that have already occurred for this season definitely hold a lot of promise.

Yes, the winds of change are swirling within the NHRA.

And if Clifford and the rest of the sanctioning body officials have their way and many of the changes prove successful, by season’s end the NHRA may be signing another Scorpions song that deals with wind: “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.”

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Helmut Marko: Modern-day F1 drivers are overpaid

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.
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Red Bull Racing team advisor Helmut Marko believes that modern-day Formula 1 drivers are overpaid due to the reduced risk and easier driving conditions they experience.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel are two of the highest-paid drivers on the grid in 2016, earning upwards of $30 million per year from their teams.

However, Marko believes that drivers in F1 are overpaid as there is now a reduced risk of suffering a fatal accident, and that with the cars being easier to drive, their worth has decreased.

“Basically, the drivers of today are definitely overpaid for two reasons,” Marko told Sport Bild in Germany.

“Firstly, there is only a small risk that serious accidents can result in injury or even be fatal.

“Secondly, young top talent like [Max] Verstappen or [Pascal] Wehrlein can take the modern car and straight away easily do 100 laps without tiring.

“Previously you had even a Vettel have to take breaks because he was not used to the high centrifugal forces. This means that the cars are easier to drive. The drivers must do less.”

Wolff: Wehrlein, Ocon deserve Formula 1 roles

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 23:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during Formula One testing at the Red Bull Ring on June 23, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
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Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff believes that junior talents Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have both earned their roles in Formula 1 for the 2016 season “on merit”.

Wehrlein will make his grand prix debut in 2016 with Manor Racing after winning the DTM title for Mercedes last year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault Sport F1 Racing for its comeback season, and will work as the team’s reserve driver following his GP3 title success last year.

Wolff feels that both drivers deserve their chance in F1 this year, and also said that Mercedes will look to expand its junior program across the course of the season.

“We’re delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016,” Wolff said. “Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula 1 programmes presented ideal opportunities to achieve that.

“It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula 1 on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as champions of their respective series.

“But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program.

“Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.”