WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — According to defending Watkins Glen winner Marcos Ambrose, a Cup car can get downright ornery on a road course.
Though Ambrose is perhaps the best in the series at negotiating a course with right and left turns, he compares driving a 3,400-pound, 900-horsepower Cup car to trying to ride an unpredictable bull.
“You’re trying to ride a bull and keep it somewhat under control,” Ambrose said. “The car is really powerful, and it wants to buck and kick and throw you off every corner, and you’ve just got to manage that. You’ve got to really control the brutality of the Sprint Cup car.”
For one thing, there’s a lot more going on inside the car than there is at a typical oval race.
“You’ve got a lot more braking and technique on the brakes as well trying to keep the car from locking the tires up and downshifting, looking after the gearbox, looking after the car,” Ambrose said. “I don’t think anyone who has raced a car or has watched car racing can fully appreciate how difficult these Sprint Cup cars are to get around a road course.
“They’re just really heavy, really powerful with not enough brakes and not enough downforce. The tire that we have on the car is very small compared to the weight we carry, and that’s what makes our sport so great. Whether it’s road racing or Bristol or Michigan, it’s man versus machine, and it’s a tough battle out there. It’s really satisfying when it goes well and not so satisfying when it goes wrong — and it could go wrong in a hurry.”
Intermittent showers delayed Friday’s Sprint Cup practice, but when the cars finally took to the track at around 4:30 p.m. ET, Kurt Busch paced the session with a lap at 125.055 mph. Ryan Newman was second fastest at 124.406 mph. . . . Denny Hamlin hit a patch of oil at the bottom of the esses — the result of Patrick Long’s blown engine — and wrecked during practice. He’ll start Sunday’s race in a backup car but won’t have to go to the rear because the crash took place before qualifying, which is scheduled for Saturday. Jeff Burton also hit the oil, piled into Hamlin and likewise went to a backup.