By Shawn Vargo
While their cars still have yellow stripes on the rear bumpers denoting their rookie status, many of this year's Nextel Cup newbies are anxious to get on the second road course of the season when they visit Watkins Glen International this weekend.
And following a bout with poor weather on recent testing days at WGI, look for the rookies to be among the busiest during the upcoming practice sessions.
Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers, who are first and second, respectively, in the rookie standings, have never raced at The Glen. Scott Wimmer and Brendan Gaughan, third and fourth in the standings, have been here, but not in a Nextel Cup machine.
"Just some old road course stuff, rear engines and sports cars and that," Gaughan said. "It's been a few years since I've been here. (1997) was probably the last time I've been around this joint. I had some fun back then and so at least I've seen the race track."
Wimmer got in some laps in on the road course while driving in the Busch Series in 2001.
He was among the drivers that put some laps on their Nextel Cup cars Aug. 2 during a half-day test session.
"We just worked on a lot of comfort things - worked on some lines and things like that," Wimmer said. "We didn't really get into a lot of changes. I feel pretty comfortable coming back."
While many haven't logged a lot of miles over the course, their teammates have. The information that is passed along is valuable, especially coming from some of The Glen's better racers.
"Jeff Gordon has told me some things and that was helpful," said Vickers, who races for Hendrick Motorsports and is teammates with the four-time Glen champion. "There's a lot you can learn on these tracks. Somebody like myself who hasn't been on some of these tracks can learn just by going out and running laps. We need to run as many laps as we can so we can work on things."
Gaughan is also getting information from a WGI heavy-hitter, two-time winner Rusty Wallace.
"We have Rusty's and Ryan (Newman's) data from this track so at least I can see where Rusty breaks, here's where he shifts. Rusty is one of NASCAR's great road course racers and he's done pretty well here," Gaughan said. "That gives us a head start. To have all that data is a big deal."
Nearly to a man, this year's rookie class is ready to tackle The Glen's 2.45-mile layout and are excited about a road race.
"I enjoy road courses and I know many of the new drivers enjoy road courses," Vickers said. "I think the Busch Series should be going to road courses and the Cup Series should always go to two road courses - if not more."
"I wish there were more road courses," Gaughan said. "I think our sport is about being race car drivers. Each race we compete against people, short track, big track, intermediate, superspeedway, road course - don't take the road course out, it's part of racing."