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Will an afternoon thunderstorm play havoc with Sunday's Watkins Glen 220?

  Goodyear's new NASCAR rain tire -- Juan Pablo Montoya-tested, and ready for action...but only on Saturdays, not Sundays -- not yet at least (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   The NASCAR Sunday Notebook:

   -- With heavy thunderstorms aiming toward Watkins Glen International Sunday afternoon, why doesn't NASCAR race Cup cars in the rain on road courses like this?
   NASCAR did run last summer's Montreal Nationwide race in the rain, on some vintage Goodyear rain tires. Following that event Goodyear engineers cranked up a new stock car racing rain tire program, and it brought 600 of the new-generation NASCAR rain tires here, prepared for rain in Saturday's Nationwide race. However NASCAR has no plans to try to run the Cup race here in the rain.
   If Nationwide, why not Cup too?
   One big reason is most Cup drivers (Nationwide drivers too, of course) have very little if any experience racing in the rain.
   Another big reason is that the Watkins Glen course would likely have to be 'cleaned up' with new water drainage designs and smoothed out to eliminate puddles of standing water.
   NASCAR has never raced in the rain, basically because it runs most events on high-banked tracks, which are generally unsuited to racing in the rain.
   However for the three years that NASCAR's Cup teams ran those exhibition races in Japan (at Motegi and Suzuka, to judge interest in a potential Japanese NASCAR series), NASCAR had Goodyear design stock car rain tires, which were actually used in one qualifying session in 1997, though not in the race. And NASCAR ordered teams to prepare their road racing cars with brake lights, windshield wipers and a defogging system too.
   Driver however showed little interest in the entire project and all but balked at any possibility of actually running these Cup cars in the rain (or in 'the wet,' to be more precise).
   So NASCAR several years ago simply dropped the rain kit for Cup.
   "However when we added Mexico City to the Nationwide tour a few years ago," NASCAR's John Darby, the Cup tour director, said, "with the time constraints on traveling in and out of Mexico, we decided it was worthy to readopt that system.
   "And then Montreal came on board – another place where we really needed to be able to get the race in on time.
   "But we never reinstalled that system into the Cup series. Because we would like to complete the race in dry conditions, to keep everybody on equal footing.
   "However I'm certainly not saying it will never come back to the Cup series…because Goodyear has done a really, really nice job in developing the new 'wet' tire, compared to what we had back in the Suzuka days."
   Of course NASCAR and Goodyear aren't talking necessarily about racing in the rain as much as racing in the 'wet,' "because it can rain too hard, even with all the wipers and tires, to be practical to race," Darby says. "If you have standing water on the course it becomes almost impossible to compete.
    "So I won't put it (Cup racing in wet weather eventually) completely off the map, but today it is what it is."

  NASCAR's John Darby (C), as the Cup tour's racing director, has had to sweat out a lot of rainy day decisions this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
-- It looks like Team Red Bull will be sticking with Toyotas and TRD engines in 2010, rather than jump to Chevrolets and Rick Hendrick horsepower. Team manager Jay Frye said he expected to make some announcements on everything in the next week or so. Brian Vickers' contract renewal with Red Bull has been up in the air, but Vickers is expected to get a new deal with the team, and Vickers is also expected to drive some for Toyota Nationwide owner Todd Braun in 2010.

   -- If Team Red Bull does stay in the Toyota camp, that could open up a Rick Hendrick engineering and engine option for car owner Chip Ganassi and driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Ganassi and Montoya are running Chevrolets this season, with engines supplied through Richard Childress. However General Motors' bankruptcy and racing cutbacks have left a number of issues and sponsorships up in the air.

   --  Ford's long-awaited debut of its new NASCAR engine is now expected to come next Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, but it's not clear which teams may be using it. The engine has a much improved cooling system, which should make for more downforce on the nose, because teams won't have to run so much ductwork.

   -- Now here's an intriguing idea raised Sunday morning by one NASCAR Cup team: to run next season's Dover, Del., chase race in September under the lights Saturday night, at just 200 laps (instead of 400), but caution-flag laps wouldn't count. It would be like a big Bristol, with sparks flying from under the cars. Might be an easy ticket for Dover raceway track president Denis McGlynn to sell….and an easier event for TV to market.

   -- Petty Motorsports officials deny that Reed Sorenson suffered any concussion in last Monday's crash at Pocono. Carbon monoxide fumes are given as the reason for Sorenson's possibly needing a relief driver for Sunday's race at the Glen. Team owner George Gillett called Jacques Villeneuve about being that relief here; but Sorenson was given a medical okay by a doctor, and Villeneuve wasn't needed.

   -- Jacques Villeneuve says he wants to give NASCAR racing another try, but so far he's apparently been unable to persuade a team to hire him. Villeneuve, despite his Formula One credentials, wasn't very impressive in his seven NASCAR Truck races in late 2007 or in his Talladega Cup run that fall. He tried to qualify for last year's Daytona 500 in a Bill Davis Toyota but crashed out of his qualifying race. That's the last time he ran a Cup car. He did run last summer's rain-marred Nationwide race at Montreal, finishing 16th, and he is expected to run in that event later this month.

  Robby Gordon: one of NASCAR's best pure road racers, but lately he's seemed off his game (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Robby Gordon isn't having a good time of it the last few weeks. There was that run-in with David Stremme at Pocono, and then a Saturday battle with Joey Logano in the Nationwide race here. Gordon and Logano's crew chief Greg Zipadelli exchanged some words over the Saturday incident here. "I won't be Robby's navigator in any Baja races any time soon," Zipadelli quipped afterwards.
   Gordon: "After reviewing the comments by Logano and the replay of the day's events, I felt that it was necessary to explain what happened during yesterday's race from my perspective.
    "This whole turn of events started with Joey running into the back of my car in turn 10. He then knocked me sideways in turn 11. To show him my displeasure, I ran him down toward the inside wall on the frontstraight. I tried to do a crossover move in turn one to get back by him; however, I misjudged a little, resulting in both of us getting flat tires. 
    "During the final incident that ended Joey's day, we were racing for the 'lucky dog' position. We both had good cars and were just trying to improve our finishing position for the day.
    "After the bus stop chicane, Joey wrecked Tony Raines. This contact allowed me to get under him in turn nine. He saw I was going to pass him for the lucky dog position, so he tried to block me. This maneuver resulted in his right-rear tire connecting with my left-front. From there, I felt he would be okay because he was in the section where the outer loop was. Rather than going down the inner loop, he decided to cut across the grass, hitting the tire barrier.
   "At the end of the day I'm just glad Joey is okay.  This is a highly competitive sport, and we are all very passionate when we are on the track. Tempers have a tendency to flare, but hopefully in the future we will both race each other cleaner.
    "Under my own doing, I did stop by the NASCAR hauler this morning to converse with them about yesterday. There will be no repercussions from yesterday's events."

   -- Tony Stewart is apparently scratching plans for a possible third Cup team next season, because of the difficulty of finding a major sponsor.
    "I don't think we've ruled that out yet," Stewart says. "But it's getting to the point in the season if we're going to do a third team next season it would have to happen pretty quickly. At least having the sponsor and driver lined up to make sure that we have an adequate amount of time to get all the pieces in place for next year. I would say it's not very likely right now."

   -- There may be a movement afoot to standardize NASCAR race starting times: 1 p.m. ET has been suggested. Certainly teams, and probably NASCAR and TV officials, would now be in favor of that, given the rain problems the stock car tour has had this season. "If we had started the Daytona 500 much earlier than 3:15 p.m., we could have gotten the whole race in," crew chief Greg Zipadelli points out. And some other races might have gone much more smoothly too.


  Has there ever been a NASCAR weekend at Watkins Glen when it hasn't rained? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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