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Live blog of Nationwide Series' Zippo 200: Ambrose does it again

Marcos Ambrose (front of car) celebrates with his crew in victory lane in front of just a few photographers. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

Ride along with Keith McShea and Larry Ott for a live blog of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

Afterwards, feel free to comment below.

---Keith McShea and Larry Ott

Saturday live at the Glen

WATKINS GLEN -- Hello again from Watkins Glen International. We've got two practices for the Sprint Cup cars today as well as qualifying and the race for the Nationwide Series. Here's how things went on Friday.

One fun thing on tap for today is a ride in the pace car. I was fortunate enough to do that last year -- here's link to the story and the blog entry.

10:42 a.m. It was a pleasant drive up from our Corning hotel and with sunny skies it looks like another great day at the Glen (thank goodness, the way this summer has gone).

10:58 a.m. The Nationwide cars are on the track right now for qualifying. The race is later on today at 3 p.m.

11:09 a.m. Brad Kesolowski just went for a little spin after the Inner Loop. Marcos Ambrose, the winner of last year's race, is atop the speed charts at the moment as qualifying winds down.

11:50 a.m. Kevin Harvick just posted a track-record lap -- to best Marcos Ambrose track-record lap -- to win the Nationwide pole. 

Noon: The Sprint Cup cars are on the track for the first of two practice sessions today.

Sam Hornish (77) and David Ragan (6) head to the garage after Saturday's first practice session. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

12:11 p.m. Syracuse University head coach Doug Marrone, who is the grand marshal for today's Nationwide Series race, the Zippo 200, is meeting the media. I just asked him about his recruiting world being challenged by the University at Buffalo as well as Buffalo native Mike Williams. Marrone spoke very highly of Williams. I'll get those quotes online as soon as I can [here they are].

12:27 p.m. Just updated a story for buffalonews.com about Harvick winning the pole.

12:44 p.m. Myself, Larry Ott and James Johnson of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle are off to go on a pace car ride. Booyah.

1:26 p.m. Larry and I had a heck of a ride in the pace car, driven by former Cup driver and Chemung native Brett Bodine. I'll post some pictures soon and Larry is going to write up his experience. Bummer for James -- we ran out of time and he couldn't get a ride.

2:24 p.m. After some lunch, we're back and typing away as the second practice session is winding down. Marcos Ambrose continued his fast day in the first session -- he was quickest in 1 minute, 11.916 seconds (122.643 mph), followed by Sam Hornish Jr., pole sitter Jimmie Johnson and Juan Montoya. Fifth was Max Papis, who is driving for Germain Racing which Lockport's Hillman family is a big part of.

2:41 p.m. Ambrose loves driving at this place. He had the quickest lap during Saturday's second practice session at 1:11.695 (123.021 mph). Johnson was second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Boris Said.

Reed Sorenson (43) and Joey Logano (20) head out for the second practice session.

3:02 p.m. Just transcribed SU coach Doug Marrone's quotes at the Campus Watch blog.

3:04 p.m. We're going to have a live interactive blog going during Sunday's Sprint Cup race, but we're not sure about today's Nationwide race -- we have a lot going on here today and we might save the "live" show for the big race (feel free to offer feedback in the comments section below).

3:35 p.m. Larry Ott and I made an executive decision -- we're live and blogging the Zippo 200 on a separate post. Tune in there.

6:57 p.m. Marcos Ambrose wins the Zippo 200 -- the story for buffalonews.com is posted and will be updated.

7:03 p.m. Check out the live blog post for a cool picture I took from the upper level of the back of the media center. This blogging thing is pretty fun, huh? But it's a lot of work -- I've still got a lot to do.

7:17 p.m. Check out Larry Ott's pace car ride -- I was along for the ride and snapped some photos.

---Keith McShea

Friday live at the Glen: Jimmie wins the pole

Hello from Watkins Glen International, where NASCAR is making its annual visit.

This afternoon we'll have qualifying for the Sprint Cup is the big thing today, and that will be starting at 3:10 p.m.

We'll be having a live chat at 2:15 p.m.

1:48 p.m. Kurt Busch was fastest in the Sprint Cup's first practice session with a lap of 70.922 seconds (124.362 mph). Denny Hamlin was second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.

2:16 p.m. We pushed our live chat back 15 minutes since Mr. Jerry Sullivan is "on the air" right now.

3:12 p.m. Just completed the chat, and the Sprint Cup cars are on the track for qualifying.

A moment ago, a short press conference was held to unveil a painting by motorsports artist Sam Bass which has been reproduced as this weekend's event poster. Bass was asked about the incident earlier this year in Nashville in which a guitar he painted was smashed to bits by Kyle Busch after Busch won a Nationwide race.

Bass, as detailed in this story, again handled the question with class. He said people want to "set up some sort of celebrity deathmatch" between the two, but Bass has received so much publicity about the incident he's been astounded.

3:21 p.m. An update on the Nationwide Series -- the first Zippo 200 practice has Kyle Busch (73.371 seconds; 120.211 mph), Denny Hamlin, RobbyGordon, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano leading the way.

3:32 p.m. Kyle Busch seemed to nearly lose his No. 18 car coming out of the Inner Loop that interrupts the backstretch, but he put up a lap that is second after eight drivers. Busch can flat-out drive.

3:55 p.m. Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch are the top five as we're through 16 drivers. A total of 47 will attempt to qualify for the 43-car field, including Max Papis in the No. 13 Toyota which has Lockport natives Mike Hillman Sr. and Jr. leading the team.

A total of 11 drivers are listed as being required to qualify on time. In addition to Papis, they are familiar faces Ron Fellows and Boris Said, veterans Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney as well as Brian Simo, Scott Speed, David Gilliland, P.J. Jones, Andy Lally and Tony Ave.

4:03 p.m. Qualifying update: David Stremme is fifth; Ryan Newman sixth; Kyle Busch seventh.

4:20 p.m. Sam Hornish locked up the brakes and got a little grass time on his lap and is 24th of 25 cars at the moment.

4:35 p.m. Greg Biffle posted a nice lap and is in the seventh spot, bumping Busch to eighth.

4:44 p.m. Tony Stewart, who had the 34th-best practice lap earlier, is currently in the 12th spot.

4:48 p.m. Jeff Gordon 27th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 28th, Carl Edwards at 29th. Yikes.

4:57 p.m. The go-or-go-home guys are taking their turns now.

5:08 p.m. Max Papis, driving for the Germain Racing team full of the Hillman family of Lockport (read more about them in Larry Ott's story in Saturday's paper), put down a strong lap and will make the race. Andy Lally will be the first New Yorker in the race in a long time after also runnig a strong lap -- both he and Papis should be in the top 20. Boris Said has posted the ninth-best lap while Ron Fellows may have been holding his breath for a moment -- he just was guaranteed a spot in the field when other cars couldn't match his time. Fellows will start towards the back of the pack, however.

5:17 p.m. Scott Speed is the final driver on the course; he's trying to knock Joe Nemechek out and make the race. David Gilliland and Brian Simo are on the outside looking in.

5:19 p.m. Speed makes it in 26th position, bumping Nemechek out. The field is set, led by Jimmie Johnson on the pole. The starting line up is at NASCAR.com.

Here's some phone video of Johnson talking about the portion of the track known as "the Esses."

5:50 p.m. The top three qualifiers have done their turns in the media room. The Nationwide cars are on the track, and Jason Leffler went for an awful hard crash -- apparently he is OK after being released from the infield care center. I'll be doing some writing for a while.  

9:10 p.m. Stories have been filed for the paper and will be up on the Web shortly. Small note -- Ron Fellows had the best time in the second Nationwide practice, followed by Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon and Carl Edwards.

9:23 p.m. Here's my main story on Johnson winning the pole while here's Larry Ott's story that leads off with the Hillman family of Lockport making Sunday's race. Good night and see you back here tomorrow.

---Keith McShea

Review Friday's live chat from the Glen

Join our live chat as the action gets vroom-ing at Watkins Glen International for its annual NASCAR weekend.



Afterwards, feel free to add comments below. The News will have coverage from the Glen all weekend.

---Keith McShea

NASCAR at Watkins Glen: Revving up for the weekend

89114446CG011_Allstate_400_ In today's News I have a feature story on Greg Biffle (left) while Western New York auto racing guru Larry Ott sizes up NASCAR Sprint Cup's top 12 in points heading into this weekend's racing at Watkins Glen International. Ever since the 10-race postseason chase began in 2004, the Glen has been at a crucial point in the countdown. This year it is again in its traditional spot: five races to go. 

Biffle was a great interview last week during an event in Rochester. He's a down-to-earth guy who sounds like a driver who paid his dues as he worked his way up the NASCAR food chain -- which was a big part of my story. I like his idea of an age limit for drivers for the reasons he talked about: giving NASCAR's trucks and Nationwide series a lift while giving super-young drivers some seasoning.

Biffle is trying to hang on to a chase spot as he's currenlty in the 12th position. The main man in Ott's story is Kyle Busch, who is on the outside looking in at No. 13.

I'm scheduled to be part of a conference call with Busch this afternoon, which should be interesting -- it's certainly a surprise that he's not in the chase right now, and there will certainly be some talk about that. I'll have an update later on as well as throughout the weekend.

In case you missed it, Sabre fans -- Ryan Miller will be at the track Friday evening.

---Keith McShea

Sabres' Miller among big Upstate names headed to the Glen

Sabres Afinogenov Hockey The racing weekend at Watkins Glen International starts on Friday, and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (left) will be a part of it.

Miller will be the grand marshal for Friday night's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series event, the Crown Royal 200.

Fans will get a chance to meet Miller during a special autograph session at 5 p.m. Friday. Miller will be at The Pyramid -- the souvenir store located in the infield of the track -- to sign autographs and promote his charitable endeavor, The Steadfast Foundation. During the appearance, Miller will sell limited edition Steadfast Foundation/Watkins Glen International hats with all proceeds benefiting The Steadfast Foundation. 

First-year Syracuse University football coach Doug Marrone will be the grand marshal for Saturday's Nationwide Series race, the Zippo 200.

Several local military groups will be participating in the prerace festivities as well.

During the singing of the National Anthem for Saturday's Zippo 200 and Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, color guards from all different military branches will be posted around the 2.45-mile circuit. They include the U.S. Niagara Falls Air Force Color Guard of Niagara Falls, the U.S. Navy Color Guard of Buffalo will be joined by the color guard of the Army’s 27th Combat Brigade of Syracuse.

Prior to Sunday's race, the nation's colors will be presented at the start/finish line by the West Point Military Police Honor Guard. Each member of the West Point Military Police Honor Guard has served the country in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The unit's primary purpose is to render military honors at military funerals but they also present the nation’s colors for various ceremonies and events.

Following Saturday's anthem, multiple Black Hawk helicopters from the N.Y. Army National Guard of Albany will pass over the grandstands. Sunday's flyover will be made by four F-16C Fighting Falcons of the 174th Fighter Wing from Syracuse.

I'll have updates throughout the weekend from the Glen.

---Keith McShea

Associated Press file photo

 

Live from the Honda Indy Toronto: Dario wins from the pole

TORONTO -- We're coming to you live from Exhibition Place, site of today's Honda Indy Toronto. Another week, another mini-road trip to an IndyCar Series event. We'll have to see what's in store for today -- Justin Wilson's win for victory-starved Dale Coyne Racing was a pretty great story last week at Watkins Glen.

10:50 a.m. I was dropped off out front and joined a lot of fans making their way to the venue.

This is such a great city. Everytime I cover this race I promise myself that I have to make the short trip up here -- truly one of the world's best cities. And of course, I haven't tripped here since I last covered this race a few years ago.

10:54 a.m. Arrive in the media room, which this year is located outside the track as part of Exhibition Place's National Trade Center. You can actually walk out of the media room and across the busy, wide hallway to see the frontstretch leading to the very sharp Turn One -- from where I'm sitting, I can see some sunshine and a grandstand through the doorway. Kind of nice to have a glimpse of the track.

In past years that I covered the race here, the media room was inside the track in the Automotive Building. But it wasn't easy to step out of the room and see the track -- you literally covered the race from a room without windows without seeing the track at all. I always feel like I'm giving away a trade secret when people ask me where I get to watch the race -- essentially the only way to effectively cover a race (especially on a street/road course) is by watching television -- not unlike what a lot of people will do on their couch today.

11:28 a.m. A whole lot of photographers are on the move out of the media room. That means only one thing -- the food is being served.

11:34 a.m. A nice selection of tasty wraps and sandwiches. But nothing to drink! Advantage, Watkins Glen -- by at least a few laps.

Helio Castroneves greets the fans (look right above the tattoo-ed dude.11:37 a.m. Race grand marshal Gene Simmons, the famous tongue-brandishing member of KISS, is shown on the closed-circuit television awarding the winner of Miss Honda Indy Toronto. Shockingly, he looks like he is enjoying his role.

12:37 p.m. After some housekeeping, I'm heading outside to get a look at prerace activities.

12:50 p.m. Firehawk, the Firestone tire mascot, throws T-shirts into the bleachers. A few attempts are weak. He is booed by the crowd. Good to see mascot taunting is a universal language.

1:17 p.m. Here's some video of Gene Simmons' command to start engines, from outside the frontstretch, looking across to pit lane (thank you, new iPhone). From right to left, the frontstretch goes past pit lane and on to Turn One.

1:19 p.m. We're off and racing and Will Power has a bummer of a start from the second spot -- while all the cars made the sharp turn into Turn One, he coasted into the corner with a cut tire due to contact on the start. No such problems for Dario Franchitti. Graham Rahal had some contact on the start, which forced him in for a pit stop. Ryan Briscoe had a flat right rear, necessitating a pit stop. 

1:31 p.m. We're back to racing after Dan Wheldon's spin brought out the yellow. As soon as I typed that, Ed Carpenter's nose of the No. 20 car is stuck into the wall.

1:45 p.m. Paul Tracy got a huge roar in prerace introductions, and he's getting more cheers from the hometown fans as he's moved up to fifth in the running ourder after starting 15th. Alex Tagliani leads with Tracy second after Franchitti went to the pits. 

1:55 p.m. Tagliani left in front as Tracy comes in for a great pit stop. Tracy comes out roaring and passes rookie Mike Conway; Conway tries to catch up and really slams his back end into the wall. Ouch. 

1:57 p.m. Tagliani in and out smoothly on lap 35 (of 85); Mario Moraes assumes the lead.

2:07 p.m. Helio Castroneves leads Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tagliani and we're more than halfway through -- 44 of 85 laps.

2:13 p.m. Castroneves into the pits and surrenders the lead, leaving Tagliani and Tracy on top again. On lap 51 of 85. After a couple of early yellows, this race is flying.

2:20 p.m. Speaking of flying, check out the view from the outside of near start/finish. The sounds alone are pretty cool (thank you again, iPhone).

2:23 p.m. Graham Rahal spins as Castroneves was coming into the pits; Rahal went inside Carpenter in a turn and Carpenter's rear banged into Rahal's front. Tagliani leads Dixon, Moraes and Matos -- all four only have had one stop so they will be coming in with nearly everyone else.

2:32 p.m. Jimmy Vassar is "flabbergasted" that Tracy had to allow Franchitti in front of him after a pitting issue related to the start of the caution period. Soon after, Dario makes a slick move past Helio for the lead as we approach 20 laps to go. Tracy is now stalking Helio. 

2:35 p.m. The media room -- and many living rooms -- erupt in an "OHHHHH!" Tracy roared along side Helio, and the two went side-by-side before Helio banged Tracy into the wall. Wow. Helio made it to the pits, but he has too much damage and his day is done.

2:41 p.m. Under caution, Dario leads Briscoe, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Danica Patrick. Going green, some nice action as Will Power gets past Wilson and Wilson holds off Patrick.

2:45 p.m. Dixon passes Patrick for fifth while E.J. Viso and Moraes have some troubles. Speaking of troubles, Kanaan is out of his car after a bad day.

2:47 p.m. Moraes, Thomas Scheckter and Tagliani involved in an incident that brings out the caution. With 11 laps to go, Franchitti had more than a one-second lead on Ryan Briscoe, who was followed by Power, Wilson, Dixon and Patrick.

2:49 p.m. Scheckter waited for Tagliani to come around again and he threw something at his car before finally ducking into a safety vehicle. Replays showed Sheckter waiting, waiting, then pointing to his head as he hurled his golves at Tagliani. Good stuff.

2:54 p.m. The field takes the green -- there are seven laps to go. Dario and Briscoe check out on Power, although he catches on to Briscoe soon enough. Dario doesn't look like he'll be caught, especially with all the racing behind him -- Wilson and Dixon are battling each other, and they're not too far behind Power. Great move by Dixon to pass Wilson.Dario Franchitti meets the media (he's in the red at podium - yes, quite it bit aways away from me).

2:57 p.m. Approaching five laps to go, Dario leads Briscoe by 1.8 seconds; four laps to go it is 2.2; three left 2.3; two left 2.1. 

3 p.m. White flag for Franchitti, who has a 2.1-second lead.

3:01 p.m. Dario Franchitti WINS the Honda Indy Toronto. 

Ashley Judd, his wife, is being interviewed by ESPN. Hey, bring her in the media center!

Time to write. Final top 10 according to scoring monitor: Dario, Briscoe, Power, Dixon, Wilson, Patrick, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Tagliani, Matos.

5:44 p.m. My story is complete at buffalonews.com. Dinner, drive and a ??-minute wait at the border to come.

---Keith McShea

Sunday live (and interactive) at the Glen

WATKINS GLEN -- We're back at Watkins Glen International on what should be a fun race day. The weather -- always a major issue this summer -- is fantastic: a bright, sun-shiney day here at the Glen.

10:52 a.m. We're in the media center and preparing for the day. Always key to head to the track very early on race day to avoid the traffic. Indy traffic here isn't nearly as bad as NASCAR traffic, but there were enough cars heading up the hill to the Glen that I was thankful I took my back-roads shortcut from downtown and up Meads HIll Road.

11:43 a.m. In the final practice session for IndyCar, Justin Wilson had the top lap of 1 minute, 29.9611 seconds (average speed of 134.858 mph); E.J. Viso was second at 1:30.0852 (134.673 mph); Graham Rahal was third in 1:30.9982 (133.321). Rahal, Marco Andretti (seventh), rookie Robert Doornbos (ninth), rookie Mike Conway (12th) and Milka Duno (21st) all recorded the most laps of the session with 17.

11:59 a.m. Phil Lombardi of Nashua, N.H., is celebrating his SCCA F2000 victory.

12:34 p.m. University at Buffalo football coach Turner Gill was just in the media room and he did auto racing interviews proud -- he was a great pitchman for UB and mentioned the sponsor of the race (Camping World) several times. I typed up his better quotes and post them at the Campus Watch blog.

1:11 p.m. I just went outside the media center to catch the flyover of the Blue Angels' C-130 nicknamed "Fat Albert." The huge plane flew low over the track and went through some extremely banked turns -- they were sure a blast to be a part of during my ride on the plane on Friday.

We'll have a live interactive blog here come IndyCar race time. The television broadcast starts at 1 p.m., Gill will give the command to start engines, and the green flag is scheduled to be waved by Gov. David A. Paterson at 1:25 p.m.

Before or after the race, feel free to add comments below.

---Keith McShea

Saturday live at the Glen: Briscoe wins pole

Hello and Happy Fourth of July from Watkins Glen International, home of this weekend's IndyCar Series stop, the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen. I'll be checking in here with news and notes throughout the day.

12:16 p.m. Picked up our credential in the office outside the track, make the familiar drive under, and then inside, the baby-blue-guardrail-ed road course. The major stuff going on today is IndyCar qualifying, which begins at 3 p.m.

12:40 p.m. News correspondent and my annual Glen cohort Larry Ott has been on the scene all morning and he has set up an interview with Ron Ruzewski, an Elma native who is the technical director for Team Penske's IndyCar Series. On race weekends he is chief engineer for this year's Indy 500 champion, Helio Castroneves.

1 p.m. I'm preparing for the day and trying to gather my notes and pics from yesterday's trip on the Blue Angels' Fat Albert C-130, from which I'm still awestruck.

1:38 p.m. Just spent a few moments with Mike Paz, a name known throughout Western New York auto racing for his years of track announcing -- and a voice heard at tons of major tracks, including Daytona, when he takes his announcing gigs on the road. Paz suffered a stroke earlier this spring, is undergoing rehibilitation in his hometown of Rochester and was upstairs in the media center today in a wheelchair.

2:04 p.m. Qualifying is still about an hour away, but we can tell you who did best in today's practice session: Ryan Briscoe was tops with a lap of 135.143 mph (1 minute, 29.7715 seconds) around the 3.4-mile road course; and yes, this is the longer, complete version of the course which features "the boot." 

Continue reading "Saturday live at the Glen: Briscoe wins pole" »

Friday live at the Glen (actually, over it)

Hello from the Finger Lakes region -- not yet at Watkins Glen, but we will be a little later in quite a unique way.

11:14 a.m. Some major news about the race weekend at the Glen: Ponch will be there! So will the Batmobile. That's the kind of newsworthy stuff this reporter will certainly be checking out.

11:20 a.m. After killing some time in the Arnot Mall in Elmira, I'm heading next door to the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport. That's where the Blue Angels' C-130 -- a huge plane nicknamed "Fat Albert" -- will be taking a test run of a flyover it will be doing prior to the race on Sunday. The plane is in town for the Binghamton Air Show. Media members and some IndyCar drivers have been invited. What can I say, I love my job. More details to come later, as well as some fuzzy photos from my phone!

3:40 p.m. Excuse me a moment. THAT WAS FREAKIN COOL!!! Ok. Thank you.

4:50 p.m. After a pleasant drive from Elmira to Interlaken, I've arrived at my weekend accommodations on Cayuga Lake (I'm definitely lucky to have conveniently located friends).

I rode in the rear cargo area of the huge plane -- along with a contingent of media and IndyCar drivers including Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti -- as we flew from Elmira-Corning to Binghamton, where the Blue Angels are performing this weekend as part of the Binghamton Air Show. On that flight the pilots gave us a hint of what they could do -- the takeoff was mind-bending and the touchdown was a trip as well.

Then it was the really crazy stuff -- Fat Albert ran through its air show routine, which was like being on a roller coaster times 10. And yes, some people got sick. After that was a flyover of Watkins Glen International -- when Fat Albert flew past WGI, the pilots opened up the rear door of the plane and you could look down on the track and the rest of the Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake area. It was phenomenal, like HDTV come to life.

I'll have a separate post about the trip on here later after my head stops spinning.

---Keith McShea

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