Rain puts an end to course testing
By JAMES JOHNSON
(July 27, 2004) — WATKINS GLEN — Kasey Kahne drove his first laps around the Watkins Glen International race track Monday.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup Series rookie however, wasn't at the wheel of his red No. 9 Dodge.
“I've never been here until today,” Kahne said. “I drove the rental van around, and made a bunch of laps in that this morning.”
Kahne and other Nextel Cup Series drivers had little choice. Rain washed out Monday's test session for 14 teams at the road course.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's annual race at Watkins Glen International is Aug. 15, a little more than two weeks away.
Crews and drivers drove to Schuyler County after Sunday's race in New Hampshire to collect information that might help their chances during the Sirius at the Glen.
Watkins Glen International and (Infineon Raceway or Sears Point) in Sonoma, Calif., host the only road course races on the Nextel Cup schedule.
“Most of us aren't used to turning right and left on the same track,” Kahne said. “But some of the best road course drivers are Cup drivers. A lot of these guys can do whatever kind of track we're on.
“I look forward to it. I enjoy it, I just need more experience. I need to get on the track.”
Drivers have another chance to get on the Glen today. Track officials will also open the course for teams next Monday.
“There are so many different things that come into road racing,” said Brendan Gaughan, driver of the No. 77 Kodak-sponsored Dodge. “The shifting, the braking, I enjoy it.”
Like Kahne, Gaughan is a Nextel Cup rookie. He never has driven a Cup car around the Glen either. Gaughan still knows his way around the Glen. The Las Vegas native has steered open-wheel cars such as Formula 2000s, plus Sports Car Club of America and Trans-Am-style machines around the track.
“I did it for a lot of years when I was in college,” the Georgetown graduate said. “I had a good time running them. It was always deals for friends, for other people or schools.”
Yesterday, Gaughan couldn't show what he knows about the Glen. He spent most of the afternoon in shorts and a T-shirt chatting with reporters and other team members inside the track's new-look garage.
Cup crews have what they wanted for years at the Glen, more room to work in the garage, after the doors were expanded from 10 feet to 20 feet.
“It's been too small for too many years,” said Pete Rondeau, crew chief of the No. 15 Chevrolet driven by Michael Waltrip. “It was a mess before, getting in and out.“
The International Speedway Corporation, the track's parent company, also approved the replacement of Watkins Glen International's wooden grandstands with an aluminum-version in 2005.
Craig Rust, the track's president, said that work continues on the facility's water and sewer project.
“Frankly, (the garage) was something we should have done earlier,” Rust said. “We're glad we got it done. You take a look at what's critical at the time you're making the decision, and what do I think the (ISC) board will allow us to do.”
Two jobs that will have to be completed soon are a new paint job for the track's pedestrian bridge and the deconstruction of the 36-foot high billboard in the paddock.
Both structures still have the old name of NASCAR's top racing circuit, the Winston Cup Series. Track officials said that Nextel, which replaced R.J. Reynolds as series sponsor this year, will perform the work on the bridge and billboard.