At Watkins Glen, the key to going fast is how you slow down

By Tyler Head
August 5, 2017

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Part of the thrill of NASCAR is speed and the endless pursuit to find more of it.

At most tracks, aerodynamics is key to going faster (creating more downforce allows cars to travel faster through corners), but at a road course like Watkins Glen the fastest cars are the ones that slow down the best.

You can usually change your balance and make your car run through all the corners combined maybe a couple tenths faster – maybe three tenths,” Denny Hamlin said Saturday. “But you can charge a corner by an extra 50 feet and make up more time than that.”

What he’s referring to is braking.

At Watkins Glen, there are several parts of the track where long straightaways end with a low-speed corner; being able to brake later and still make the corner is vital to run fast and make passes.

Hamlin, who won the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at The Glen, points to better braking as the main reason for his recent success on road courses after several seasons of struggle.

“I’d always been pretty decent in practice, but never been really great in the race,” Hamlin said. “I had a lot of brake issues every time, not failures but lots of wheel hop and things like that going on and we have fixed most of that stuff.

“I’m able to charge the corners and do the things I need to do to be fast now.”

Simply having good brakes isn’t enough, though. Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson says preserving those brakes over the course of 90 laps is essential to keep pace.

“Like many drivers deal with here, I just get the brakes too hot and on the long runs I seem to give up a little bit of speed,” Johnson said while discussing what has kept a Watkins Glen victory off his otherwise impressive racing resume.

“I need to create lap time, I think, without depending on the brakes so much come race time. So, we’re working on a few things in that department.”

There are several other variables that will determine who goes to victory lane Sunday, but good braking will a go a long way towards a breakout win.

“It’s pretty important for sure,” Hamlin said. IMAGES Kyle Stephens/The Racing Experts

Which driver will finish highest Sunday?
No. 11 Denny Hamlin
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson
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