Immediately following the Cheez-it 355 at the Glen in 2015, race winner, Joey Logano began the process of tearing up Watkins Glen International as the track fully repaved its entire 3.4-mile layout.
Nine months later cars hit the track for a two day Goodyear tire test in preparation for NASCAR’s annual visit to the Finger Lakes region.
Drivers included in the two day test were Logano, 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne.
Teams quickly found out that the speeds have increased and there is more grip in the racetrack. Over the past several years the bumps in the race track had become more severe, causing the repave.
“It’s really hard to tell,” Edwards said of how the higher speeds will affect the racing. “You never know how it’s going to work with a new surface and a new tire. The racing here always seems to be really competitive.”
Though there were no times posted, the word was that speeds are approaching the track record set by Jeff Gordon in 2014. On Tuesday, Harvick ran over 300 miles around the new pavement, which is almost 100 miles greater than the race length in August (220 miles).
Often times when tracks get repaved they gain a lot of grip and the tire wear is very low. What makes the road courses exciting is the close racing, but also that tire wear doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“Basically what they did is they took a track that didn’t have a whole bunch of tire wear to start off with and repaved it so you don’t have a bunch of tire wear again,” Logano said of the new surface. “It’s very similar so it’s not going to change the racing a whole bunch.”
1989 was the last time that Watkins Glen completely repaved the layout of the course. $12 million later and increased speeds have the drivers wondering what race conditions will be like because the sole purpose of this test was to find the right tire to bring back in August.
Restarts are often wild at the famed road course, but if the tires don’t wear it makes every position even that much more important. Logano admitted that he isn’t afraid to put it three-wide heading into a narrow Turn One.
With only three “passing zones” at the Glen it makes restarts crucial. Turn One, the “bus stop” and Turn 10 are the primary zones where drivers will make a move on one another. On the other parts of the track it is a little more difficult due to the width of the track.
“If the track gets rubber throughout the weekend it’s going to be very tough to pass,” said Kahne. “It’s up to Goodyear on what tire they can bring to this race that can withstand the heat and load of a full run and not have tire issues. If it does we will pass and if not it will be all about restarts.”
This was one of two tests this season at the 2.45-mile track. On July 26-27, WGI is scheduled to host an organization test for Cup teams, allowing one team per organization to test before the race on August 7.
Some of the other benefits of the new surface is the concrete pit road that was installed. There are also bigger concrete rumble strips in the turns, compared to previous years.
Each year WGI puts on one of the best events of the season, it will be intriguing to see if the new pavement helps or hurts the on-track action.