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The 10 best NASCAR moments at Watkins Glen

Even during an era where road courses make up 15 percent of the overall NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Watkins Glen International remains the constant across generations.

Carved through 550 acres of upstate New York forestry, the permanent facility was a response to a decade of nearby street course events held for production car races following World War II. The most prestigious of those events was the AAA Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1948 that took place on a 6.6-mile course that encompassed asphalt, cement and dirt roads throughout the village.

That event continued through 1952 but was ultimately discontinued when a series of crashes killed both racers and spectators.

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Thus, a purpose-built racing structure was built over the next several year and opened in 1956 as a world-class destination for global motorsports. NASCAR made its inaugural and only visit in 1957 and Formula 1 followed with a grand prix form 1961-80. The departure of Formula 1 left the facility closed until it was purchased by NASCAR in 1983 with the Cup Series returning by 1986.

Road courses have come and gone over the decades, growing in numbers over the past five years, but Watkins Glen has remained a staple of the Cup Series schedule over the past 37 seasons. The list of winners reads like a miniature NASCAR Hall of Fame and its high-speed nature makes it the superspeedway of road courses.

2007: Harvick and Montoya scuffle

The first race for NASCAR’s fifth-generation Cup car at Watkins Glen was a generally wild affair but the most notable moment was an incident between Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya on a restart with 18 laps remaining.

It began when Montoya blocked Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 1, resulting in Montoya and Harvick spinning ahead of the entire field, collecting Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray. Harvick took exception to the move and immediately voices his displeasure as both drivers climbed out of their cars. A brief altercation ensued. There was pushing and shoving before both walked away without further escalation.

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2001: Robby Gordon loses a weird one

Mike Skinner broke his left ankle in a crash at Chicagoland Speedway the week before and Richard Childress Racing tabbed journeyman driver Robby Gordon to drive the No. 31 on the road course at Watkins Glen. Gordon led 13 laps and raced inside the top-five for much of the race before the absolute weirdest disaster struck.

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An on-board camera installed by NBC caught fire during a mid-race pit stop and it eliminated him from the race. Gordon eventually broke through later in the year at New Hampshire and would even find redemption at The Glen in 2003 with Childress.

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2006: Kurt vs Robby in Busch classic

The 2006 Xfinity Series stop at Watkins Glen gave NASCAR fans a classic duel between two Cup Series regulars in Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon.

The Saturday race in 2006 featured a pair of Sunday racers dominating the headlines. Busch had the dominant car but was stalked by Gordon over the final 20 laps. Gordon took several shots at Busch, including a dive-bomb through the bus stop on the final lap, but the 2004 Cup Series champion prevailed.

1995: Wally Dallenbach denied

It was a tumultuous start to the 1995 Cup Series season for Bill Davis Racing, who was not finding results in the No. 22 Pontiac with the likes of Randy Lajoie and Jimmy Hensley behind the wheel.

With no single full-time driver and a road course race, Davis was afforded the opportunity to hire a road course ringer in two-time TRANS-AM champion Wally Dallenbach Jr. Despite falling ill due to inhaling fumes, Dallenback had driven to a 10-second lead in the closing laps when a caution for a Joe Nemechek caution changed everything.

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The restart allowed Mark Martin to capitalize and earn his third consecutive win at the New York road course.

2000: Steve Park’s first win


Steve Park’s path to success in the Cup Series was a methodical one that saw him show improvement in the 1999 season after an injury at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1998 forced him to miss 16 races.

Park improved further in 2000 with his first career Top 5 at the track where he sustained multiple broken bones but the long-time Modified veteran saved his best performance for the season at Watkins Glen.

Park was given the difficult task of holding off Mark Martin in the closing laps, who won three straight Watkins Glen races from 1993-1995. Even with heavy pressure on his back bumper, Park was not intimidated and held off Martin for his first of two Cup Series victories.

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2011: Ambrose, finally

Entering Watkins Glen in the 2011 Cup Series season, two-time V8 Supercars champion Marcos Ambrose had come close to winning a handful of road course races, which included stalling his car at Sonoma in 2010 while trying to save fuel in the lead.

Watkins Glen had been Ambrose’ best track with three victories in the Xfinity Series but he hoped that moving over from JTG-Daugherty Racing to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 would finally help him claim that elusive first Cup victory.

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A bad entry by Kyle Busch in Turn 1 on the final restart gave Brad Keselowski the lead but he would soon lose it to Ambrose in the outer loop. Ambrose drove away from the two before a brutal crash involving David Reutimann and David Ragan exiting Turn 1 handed Ambrose the win.

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2014: Allmendinger fends off Ambrose

The 2014 Cheez-It 355 at the Glen was an all-day affair for fans and drivers, who had to wait out a lengthy red flag after a vicious crash between Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell tore down a significant portion of fencing at Turn 9 of the long course.

When the race resumed, A.J. Allmendinger had control of the lead but faced immense pressure from Marcos Ambrose, who was looking to add one last victory at Watkins Glen before departing the Cup Series at the end of the season.

Ambrose briefly took the lead away during a sequence of late-race restarts but ultimately had nothing for Allmendinger, who held on to score an emotional first Cup Series victory for the team Ambrose initially found NASCAR success with in JTG-Daugherty Racing.

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2018: Chase Elliott’s first

It took 98 defeats over his first three seasons but Chase Elliott finally broke through as a NASCAR Cup Series winner in start 99 at Watkins Glen.

Elliott fans had to wonder if this race would be another disappointment as the No. 9 car was running short on fuel and losing ground to Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps. Elliott also overshot Turn 1 on the final lap, but Truex was unable to capitalize on the opportunity, and ran out of fuel himself coming to the checkered flag. Elliott had enough to reach the end of the race but needed teammate Jimmie Johnson to push him to Victory Lane.

In hindsight, it was a symbolic changing of the guard moment at Hendrick Motorsports.

2000: Jimmie Johnson’s Busch crash

Before Jimmie Johnson became a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, he was one of many drivers in what was the NASCAR Busch Series looking to advance their careers during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Johnson almost did not get an opportunity to move up when the brakes failed on his No. 92 Alltel Chevrolet heading into Turn 1 at Watkins Glen during the 2000 Lysol 200, causing his car to go full-speed into the styrofoam barrier.

Johnson miraculously escaped the crash uninjured and climbed on the roof of his car to celebrate the occasion, which became a familiar occasion for Johnson once he joined Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup Series.

2012: Keselowski vs. Ambrose

It’s number one on the Watkins Glen list but it’s arguably one of the top-five all-time NASCAR Cup Series finishes as well.

Kyle Busch was poised to drive to Victory Lane at The Glen in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose set to duel for second place. However, Bobby Labonte began leaking fluid onto the track and Busch was the first one to run over it.

Busch took the white flag but his car was clearly loose from, what at the time was an unknown reason, and it allowed the others to immediately close on the back bumper. The last lap was iconic: Keselowski spun Busch through the esses. Ambrose then closed onto Keselowski, the pair trading the lead several times, racing on a surface that was icy slick due to the oil. Ambrose emerged victorious for the second straight season.

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