Notebook

Watkins Glen Notebook: Papis finishes 15th in Stewart’s car

jutter@charlotteobserver.comAugust 12, 2013 

  • Next Race Pure Michigan 400

    Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.

    When: 1 p.m. Sunday

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: Motor Racing Network

    Last year’s winner: Greg Biffle

— Max Papis proved a credible substitute for Tony Stewart on Sunday and finished 15th after struggling early in the race. Papis was involved in an incident with Marcos Ambrose and Brian Vickers on Lap 85 of 90, but that didn’t derail his run.

Stewart is out indefinitely after breaking two bones in his right leg in a sprint car race last week in Iowa.

“I drove the wheels off the car every lap. I’m super proud of keeping the seat of Smoke (Stewart) as warm as I could,” Papis said. “I felt I did a pretty good job, and I’m proud of myself.”

Stewart-Haas Racing hopes to name a driver for the No. 14 in next weekend’s Michigan race early this week.

Great day turns sour for Ambrose: Marcos Ambrose’s quest for three straight Cup wins at Watkins Glen was looking good after he won the pole Friday and even better when he led the first 28 laps Sunday.

A badly timed caution on Lap 61, shortly after Ambrose stopped under green, put him back in the field, where his No. 9 Ford didn’t perform nearly as well. Then on a restart on Lap 85, he got a slow start and appeared to get spun by Max Papis and wrecked.

“Something was wrong with the car there, and I just couldn’t get going,” Ambrose said of the last restart. “I just feel bad for the guys caught up in that mess. That’s not the way we wanted our day to finish.”

He’s back among the top 10: Martin Truex Jr.’s hopes to contend for the championship this season got a big boost with his third-place finish. He moved to 10th in the series standings, which would guarantee a spot in the Chase.

With four races left before the 12-driver field is set, Truex is in good position considering he has a win, which also could help him get in through two wild-card spots.

“We wanted to win this race. It would have meant a lot to us. We had a really fast car on newer tires,” Truex said. “I feel like if I just could have cleared and got some of that clean air, it may have been a different outcome.”

RCR makes personnel change: Richard Childress Racing has named Mark McArdle its full-time director of racing operations, effective immediately.

For four years, McArdle has been with Furniture Row Racing, first as director of competition and this year holding the title of executive director of competition. RCR and Furniture Row have had a technical alliance since 2010.

5 key moments

1. Ambrose appears headed to a third consecutive Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen after leading the first 28 laps of the 90-lap race.

2. A four-car wreck on Lap 40 makes NASCAR halt the race for more than 22 minutes to clean the track of oil.

3. Ambrose pits under green just before a caution on Lap 61 when Aric Almirola slams into the tire barrier. Kyle Busch moves into the lead under caution, and Ambrose restarts 12th.

4. Ambrose and Vickers wreck on Lap 85, setting up a two-lap dash to the finish – between Busch and second-place Brad Keselowski, a virtual replay of last season.

5. Keselowski gets to Busch’s bumper several times on the final lap but can’t complete a pass. Busch secures his third win of the season.

Observations

• Watkins Glen International had some of its biggest crowds in years for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and Sunday’s race. A large part of that likely is because of the run the track has enjoyed of late of wild, intense finishes. It has been joked the road courses have become the “new Bristol” and in terms of fan excitement and anticipation, that certainly seems a fair assessment. There was no last-lap pass or wreck Sunday, but there was excellent racing, which still brought the crowd to its feet.

• While Jeff Gordon won four Cup championships and a large number of races, he and his team have enjoyed something that’s carried them through even when he wasn’t visiting Victory Lane. That trait is consistency. It also is something Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team have been unable to wrap its collective arms around during 2013. Gordon and his team rarely had really bad days and when they did, they seemed to be able to make them a little better before it was over. Not so much this season.

• This will come as little surprise, but Jimmie Johnson became the first driver to earn a spot in the Chase. With his eighth-place finish and four wins, Johnson clinched at least a wild-card spot Sunday. He is the only driver to participate in every Chase since the format was started in 2004.

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