WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Mark Martin once ruled Watkins Glen International. He's ready to recapture his excellence after a three-year hiatus.
'It would be so incredible to win here. I can't wait to get started,' Martin said Friday before qualifying 28th on the 11-turn, 2.45-mile road course.
Three drivers stand above the rest at Watkins Glen. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon lead all with four wins, one more than Martin, and Martin is the track leader with 12 top fives and 16 top 10s in 19 races.
And Martin has accomplished what no other NASCAR driver has at The Glen - all three of his victories came from the pole in succession from 1993-95. From 1989-2000, Martin had 11 top-fives (three wins, three seconds, two thirds, one fourth, two fifths) and one 10th-place finish.
'We just hit on something back there in the '90s that just really hauled around this place and was really good, just needed a few tweaks here and there,' said the 50-year-old Martin, who leads the Cup series with four wins. 'Then things change. We used the same car and the same stuff, and it just wasn't quite as sharp. Sometimes, it's just hard to explain.'
Martin said he owed much of his success to his former boss, Jack Roush.
'I took to road course racing very quickly, and Jack asked all the right questions instead of telling me what to do,' Martin said. 'He made me think about things I needed to be thinking about.'
Gordon has the most road course victories in NASCAR history with nine and Stewart has six, but the competition has narrowed the gap. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won two of the past three races at Watkins Glen, Kurt Busch won the pole here in 2006, and Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne have won at Sonoma.
'It was much easier to put a whipping on two thirds of the field than it is today,' Martin said. 'The drivers have all really stepped up to the plate. In some ways, there's less movement. You see less passing because everybody's close to the same speed and all the drivers are good at it. The difference between being good and (being) superior is obviously hard to find, or everybody would be superior and no one would be able to dominate again.'
Reed Sorenson was back driving the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning in Monday's rain-delayed race at Pocono.
Sorenson said he hit a wall on the right side around lap 70 of the 200-lap race, and that led to the problem.
'I looked at the car in the shop, and the right side had a two-inch gap,' Sorenson said Friday after qualifying 29th for Sunday's Cup race on the road course at Watkins Glen. 'I think it was sucking it (the carbon monoxide) in until lap 170. I felt OK in the car, then on the way to the airport started to feel a little nauseous. I think that's when it got to me.'
Sorenson said once he reached home he quickly recovered, though RPM placed former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve on standby as a replacement.
'I think the team was just worried about me, making sure I was OK,' Sorenson said. 'They didn't want to take any chances.'
Sorenson said his team would do random testing for carbon monoxide in the next month to make sure the levels are safe. He also said he would be taking oxygen as a precaution.
Bygones not begone
David Reutimann said Wednesday he was not ready to forgive Denny Hamlin for the accident at Pocono Raceway that essentially ended his championship hopes. That, apparently was news to Hamlin.
'I was surprised,' Hamlin said Friday at Watkins Glen International. 'We actually talked that night and he seemed fine. He didn't say that he was angry or anything. I've been in that situation before where you're battling for a Chase spot. It's not always about one race. There's a lot of races that lead up to it.'
Hamlin went on to win the race, while Reutimann finished 29th and dropped three spots in the standings to 16th - 121 points out - with five races remaining before the Chase field is set. He entered Pocono in 13th place, just 68 points out of the top 12.
'I'm apologetic about it for sure,' Hamlin said. 'It's something that I didn't mean to do, but you can't put the blame all on me if he doesn't make the Chase.'
Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, will run his first Nationwide Series race today in the Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen. ... Joe Nemechek blew a motor in morning Cup practice and failed to qualify and Clint Bowyer slid off course into a gravel pit, shortening the session. Bowyer qualified 38th. ... Syracuse head football coach Doug Marrone will give the 'start your engines' command to the drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 race at Watkins Glen today. Marrone joins Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and country singer Megan Linville as race Grand Marshals for the weekend's three races.
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Jimmie Johnson will never have a better view at Watkins Glen International. He just hopes he can keep it.
Johnson captured the first road-course pole of his career in qualifying Friday, turning a lap at 123.633 mph in 71.34 seconds over the 11-turn, 2.45-mile circuit to edge Kurt Busch for the top spot for Sunday.
"It's going to be nice to have a good view from the front," said the three-time defending Cup champion, who has never won a Cup road race. "It's going to boil down to track position and the pit stops, so hopefully we can stay up there."
Busch, who won the pole here three years ago, finished just 0.01 second behind Johnson. Denny Hamlin, fresh from an emotional victory at Pocono on Monday, qualified third. Marcos Ambrose of Tasmania was fourth, followed by David Stremme. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Boris Said, and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10.
Points leader Tony Stewart qualified 13th, while four-time Glen winner Jeff Gordon will go off 31st, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. It's the worst qualifying effort of Gordon's career at The Glen.
Because of four rainouts in qualifying in the past five years, this was the first time the COT was used in qualifying at Watkins Glen. Johnson secured the top spot in spite of a few mistakes.
"I blistered the right front in practice, it was ready to pop, and I locked the brakes in the (tight four-turn) Bus Stop," said Johnson, who started from the pole at The Glen in 2004 when qualifying was rained out. He finished 40th after blowing the engine in the No. 48 Chevy on lap 23. "I let off and bounced off the curbs and I knew I could charge hard back. It worked out."
What: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Watkins Glen, N.Y.