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10 Greatest NASCAR Moments at Watkins Glen

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10. 2011: Ambrose Wins, Reutimann Flips

There’s nothing more tense in NASCAR these days then a green-white-checker restart. But how about for a driver seeking his first ever win in the series? For Marcos Ambrose, it has been “oh-so-close” too many times on road courses since entering the Sprint Cup full-time in 2009. This time around, he was sitting second as the field sorted itself out in Turn 1 – looking like a bridesmaid again. But a well-timed bump sent the leader’s car squirrelly, pushing Ambrose through just before one of the wildest wrecks in Watkins Glen history. Back in the pack, David Ragan was tapped by Boris Said, slammed the wall, then ricocheted into David Reutimann’s No. 00 in a crash that sent that Toyota flipping wildly in the middle of the track. Said later got into a war of words with Greg Biffle, unsettled anger over this mangled mess that might continue to play out at the Glen this Sunday.

by Tom Bowles

9. 1999: Near Miss by a Road Course Ringer

It got to a point in the 1990s that road course promoters should have just handed over the trophy to Jeff Gordon on Sunday morning. Three of Gordon’s nine right-turn wins came at the Glen from 1997-99, including this domination to finish off the three-peat. Ron Fellows — what NASCAR likes to call a “road course ringer” — came the closest he’s ever been (or any of these substitute drivers, for that matter), in NASCAR’s modern era to stealing a Cup victory on a road course, only to finish second. In the meantime, Dale Earnhardt Sr. crashed hard, a rarity as the changing of the guard continued during NASCAR’s close to the 20th Century.

by Tom Bowles

8. 2008: Watkins Glen and the “Big One”

It’s not often you put the “Big One” and NASCAR in the same sentence outside of Daytona and Talladega. But in a bizarre incident, with eight laps left at the Glen in 2008, nearly a dozen cars were destroyed. Michael McDowell sparked the wreck, making contact with David Gilliland coming off of Turn 11 and in mere seconds a hard hit to the styrofoam barrier left debris flying everywhere and the track blocked. The upcoming cars turned into Demolition Derby Central, plowing into sheet metal, guardrail and styrofoam with nowhere to go. A red flag ensued to clean up the incident, leading to plenty of frayed tempers in a clean race up to that point, as no one had even gone behind the wall during the event’s first 80 laps. 

by Tom Bowles

7. 2011: Tony Stewart Switches with Lewis Hamilton

OK, so maybe it wasn’t an actual race. But how cool was it to see Formula 1’s brightest young star, Lewis Hamilton, take on a stock car while Tony Stewart made one last foray into open-wheel? Their swap, turning laps around the winding road course in Western New York, sparked rumors Hamilton was headed over to the United States – although quickly denied.  So were possible future F-1 races at the Glen, with the U.S. date awarded to a new track in Austin, Texas. But there’s still plenty of years ahead for both the drivers and the tracks … who knows what will happen?

by Tom Bowles

6. 2000: Jimmie Johnson Loses his Brakes

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Sick and tired of Johnson being politically correct? Think he’s had it easy? Then look at this 2000 crash from “Before He Was Five-Time.” Running in the Busch Series, the driver lost his brakes in the No. 92 car and went plowing into the Turn 1 wall at one of the fastest parts of Watkins Glen’s winding road course. Immediately, spectators feared Johnson was injured — or worse. Instead, the virtual unknown exited the car, jumped on the roof and waved to the crowd, assuming the Rocky pose before getting led into the infield care center for observation (he was fine). It just goes to show that no racecar driver makes it to the top without his fair share of rough rides.

by Tom Bowles

5. 1995: Mark Martin Three-peats at The Glen

Yeah, the finish was not super exciting, but it’s the accomplishment that puts Mark Martin on this list. How good was the Arkansas native in the early years of NASCAR at the Glen? He received the Driver of the Decade Award from the track in 1997. Martin’s late-race pass of former teammate Wally Dallenbach Jr. after a late caution bunched up the field made him the first driver ever to three-peat since the Cup Series returned to the track in 1986. Only one other wheelman (Gordon) has accomplished the feat since.

by Tom Bowles

4. 2000: Steve Park Wins His First

There’s nothing more exciting than winning your first race at stock car’s highest level. But for Steve Park, the final few laps of Watkins Glen were more pressure-packed than you could ever expect. Mark Martin, with three Glen victories to his credit sat perched on the rear bumper of Park’s No. 1 car, threatening to pass at every turn. It took all the third-year driver could muster to hold him off, the New York State native holding on to complete a comeback from serious injuries that cut his rookie season of 1998 in half. It was a post-race celebration to behold, bittersweet considering serious injuries in a Busch Series race one year later would ultimately cut short Park’s career at the top.

by Tom Bowles

3. 2010: Montoya Prevails over Ambrose

Two hungry drivers. Only one first-place trophy. Both road course veterans. What else do you need for a phenomenal side-by-side battle? Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya spent most of their 2010 trip to New York going at it, fighting tooth and nail in an epic war for first place that wound up tilting Montoya’s way. When all was said and done, Montoya led 74 laps to Ambrose’s eight, but that doesn’t tell the story of how razor-thin the margin was. “Two great road racers going at it,” was all ESPN’s Andy Petree could say in the midpoint of a call that left a packed house glued to their seats at The Glen.

by Tom Bowles

2. 2007: Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kevin Harvick

In this corner … a hard-nosed Colombian, Cup Series rookie whose reputation is to give no quarter to anyone. And in this corner … a Budweiser-drinking, successor to Dale Earnhardt whose temper tantrums both inside and outside the car are well documented. Throw these two volatile personalities together, have them wreck out of the race and what do you get? A NASCAR shoving match: Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kevin Harvick that kick-started a career’s worth of bad blood between them. The funny part about this wreck five years ago is neither one was to blame: Martin Truex Jr. actually made contact with Montoya, spinning him out entering Turn 1. But try telling that to Harvick, who claimed: “Juan runs over someone every week” after getting up in Montoya’s face. The rookie’s response? “I don’t appreciate that. I have no respect for the guy.” Ah, the good ol’ days of NASCAR…

by Tom Bowles