A few hours after NASCAR driver, Joey Logano, won the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International last August, he dug up a symbolic first chunk of the pavement to signal the start of the nearly $12 million repaving project of the Schuyler County racetrack.
The Penske Racing driver in the No. 22 Ford returned Tuesday, along with four other drivers from different teams, to rechristen the new asphalt surface in a two-day tire-testing session for Goodyear on the 2.45-mile portion of the track. The entire 3.4-mile layout, which includes the “Boot” section, was repaved for the first time since 1998.
“I thought they did an awesome job with the repave,” Logano said during the second day of the test on Wednesday. “This place used to be kind of bumpy when you went into certain sections … now, it’s pretty smooth.
Also attending the test were Carl Edwards, in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; Kasey Kahne, in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Trevor Bayne, in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford; and current Sprint Cup points leader and 2006 Watkins Glen race winner Kevin Harvick, in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. The cars weren’t sporting their race livery but were in either a gray or black primer with their regular car number.
“This afternoon, we are going to run some different tires and try to pick the best tire to come here and race with,” said Edwards, who is third in the Sprint Cup point standings with two wins through 11 events. “This racetrack puts on some of the best racing in NASCAR. We definitely don’t want to screw that up. We want to make sure we help pick the right tire.”
They will return Aug. 7 along with 35 other starters for the 31st running of the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
“I think it’s going to be a typical awesome Watkins Glen race again when we come back here,” Logano said.
With the fresh asphalt providing the drivers with better grip in the corners, record speeds are expected when they return in August. The drivers interviewed Wednesday, however, said the difference from last year’s lap times weren’t much faster so far.
“It’s a little faster, but not a whole bunch,” Logano said.
Upon arriving at The Glen on Tuesday, Logano had some trepidation if the track had changed much after the repave. After all, he completed an unprecedented weekend sweep of the top Sprint Cup and second-tier Xfinfity Series events at The Glen last year.
“Anytime you come to a racetrack that they’re repaving, the nerves automatically go up,” he said. “Watkins Glen has been a great racetrack in the past, and the last thing you want to see is it not be as good. After showing up here and making a few laps already, it’s still kind of the same Watkins Glen. I’m excited about that part.”
Logano’s weekend here last year culminated with his first Sprint Cup road course victory. Logano passed race leader Harvick in the final turn as Harvick sputtered out of gas to finish third.
“I felt so bad after the race having this excavator out there,” Logano said. “(They said) ‘Yeah, we want you to dig up the race track’ … (I said) ‘Nooooo, I just figured it out. I finally won here and you want me to tear it apart?’”
Edwards was also worried before the test, thinking the track might have changed in a bad way.
“I’m surprised at how well the cars move around on the new surface, and I’m really excited about that,” Edwards said. “I was nervous it was going to be really knife edge and hard to drive, and it’s surprised me so far.
“The track is very smooth, and the asphalt is actually a little more forgiving than a lot of the new repaves, which is nice. A couple of times, I’ve gotten pretty sideways and I’ve been able to just correct it pretty easily, and sometimes, on a new surface, that’s tough.”
Edwards also liked some of the new curbing treatments at the apex and exit of some of the corners.
“The curbing used to have some real tough spots that you had to get just right,” he said. “They have kind of smoothed that out, so that it’s a little more forgiving, which is nice.”
All of this could mean even better racing, on a track that has produced some of the most spectacular and drama-filled finishes in recent years on the 36-race NASCAR schedule.
Edwards said the increased speeds could make things even more chaotic on restarts during the race.
“The restarts here are crazy,” he said. “If you are four or five rows back, it is just insanity up the Esses. Now, the speeds will just be higher. There will be more grip. There is no telling what is going to happen.”
Edwards and Kahne cautioned that a lot depended on what tire Goodyear eventually chooses.
“The racing here always seems to be competitive,” Edwards said. “You never know with a new surface and a new tire; you just don’t know how it is going to work until you get a bunch of cars out there.”
Kahne said Goodyear, the only tire supplier in the Sprint Cup Series, brought “four or five” different compounds, including a control tire that he thought was from last year’s race.
“Today, it’s narrowed down to three for myself, and I’m not sure what the other guys are doing,” said Khane, who expected to do 20-lap stints on each set.
Kahne said it will be up to “what tire (Goodyear) can bring to this race.”
“It is all to do with the tire, if you are going to have good racing or not,” Kahne said. “I think Goodyear knows that.”
It is going to be very interesting to see how the new repave at The Glen will affect racing when NASCAR rolls into that facility later this summer!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!