Tens of thousands of race fans from all over the country will gather at Watkins Glen International this weekend for its marquee event, NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend.

WATKINS GLEN | Tens of thousands of race fans from all over the country will gather at Watkins Glen International this weekend for its marquee event, NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend.
Preparing for the big show is virtually a year-round endeavor for WGI President Michael Printup and his staff, but the last few weeks leading up to the races are “like a million bees trying to make honey,” Printup says.
“When you’re trying to prepare for 100,000-plus people for a weekend, it gets a little nerve-wracking,” he admitted.
But everything will be ready to rock by the time the race teams’ haulers roll through the gates and into the garage area at the historic Schuyler County track on Thursday, Printup said.
Printup doesn’t just run the race track. He’s also an enthusiastic fan of the sport, and he’s got his eye on a number of Sprint Cup story lines heading into Sunday’s big enchilada, the Cheez-It 355.
One of the big questions that’s emerging, Printup said, is how important the Watkins Glen stop becomes under the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s 10-race championship that caps the year.
The new format puts a far greater emphasis on winning races than racking up points based on order of finish. Because of the way the season has unfolded, at this point, it’s “win and you’re in,” Printup said.
Only 16 drivers will qualify, and Watkins Glen is among the last five races before the Chase begins.
“With the way they reformatted the Chase, I think that brings a lot of attention to us,” Printup said.
NASCAR is also using a new qualifying system this year that should be more exciting, Printup said.
Under the new system, all 43 cars are on track at once for a 25-minute qualifying session. Only the top 24 come back for a second, 10-minute session; and then the top 12 make the final five-minute session that determines pole position.
Asked to pick a winner for Sunday’s race, Printup wouldn’t be pinned down, but he gave his three favorites.
One is a no-brainer: road course ace Marcos Ambrose, who won at the Glen in 2011 and 2012 and lost his bid last year to car trouble. He picked Kyle Busch, who won in 2008 and 2013. His third pick, however, might raise some eyebrows: Danica Patrick, yet to win a Cup race.
“I still think Danica is in for a win here,” Printup said. “I think Danica could whip this track into shape and come back and sit there in Gatorade Victory Lane with a big Cheez-It trophy.”
This week’s festivities kick off Thursday night with Race Fever, the block party on Bridge Street in Corning.
Set for 5-9 p.m., the event will feature Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. show cars, NASCAR merchandise vendors, food, live music, inflatables and other kids’ activities, and more. The annual Crystal City Duck Race will be held to benefit Corning Meals on Wheels.
Then the action shifts to the track.
Friday’s support series race is the Bully Hill Vineyards 125, a K&N Pro Series East race. It will be followed by a concert with country singer Tim Dugger, with the Zac Brown Tribute Band as the opening act.
Saturday’s highlights include Sprint Cup qualifying and the Zippo 200, the Nationwide Series race.
The flag drops at 1 p.m Sunday for the Cheez-It 355.
Throughout the weekend, there will be appearances by drivers including Boris Said, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., where fans can ask the drivers questions.
For a complete schedule of events, ticket information and other details, go to www.theglen.com or call (866) 461-RACE.