WATKINS GLEN — With one NASCAR Sprint Cup road course victory already this season, Sanborn native Craig Curione arrived Sunday morning at Watkins Glen with the goal of helping his Michael Waltrip Racing team and driver Martin Truex Jr. complete a road racing season sweep.
They came close.
Hope was high for a banner day as Truex started third in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, but he finished in that same position. The team did gain four spots in the Cup points race, moving from 14th to 10th.
Curione is the front tire carrier on the pit crew for the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota driven by Truex. Truex won the only other road course event on the Cup Series’ 2013 schedule at Sonoma Raceway on June 23.
“It wasn’t too bad of a day,” Curione said. “We accomplished what we came here for. We had a good points day, but of course we wanted to win but right now we’re trying to get into the Chase. We capitalized on some of our other points competitors’ misfortunes today.”
Curione and his mates performed two stops and were able to get Truex Jr. back into the fray both times without losing any track position. Following the group’s initial pit stop on lap 29, they viewed a video replay of the stop.
“We practiced during the week and executed pretty good on that first stop,” Curione said. “We replay every pit stop.”
On a few occasions during the race, team owner Michael Waltrip visited the pit box to check on his team. Having the boss around didn’t bother Curione.
“He didn’t say anything to me so far today but Michael’s just here for the party anyway,” laughed Curione.
Prior to the day’s second pit stop, which came on lap 59, Curione did some stretching exercises to prepare for carrying the heavy tires. Other crew members stretched as well.
“You’ve got to be in control of your stuff out there all the time,” Curione said. “It gets pretty hairy out there. That second pit stop was not too bad. We put some tape on the grill to try to get some more temperature in the car. It was running a little cool. Our first stop was a 13.4.” seconds, “which is good for this road course where we pit in the reverse direction here. I think the second stop was a tick slower because of the taping of the grill and we had a little hiccup on the back of the car, but nothing major.”
Curione and the other crew members had an adventure just getting to the Glen early Sunday morning following delays in their flight from the Charlotte area.
“We took off for here about 3:30 this morning and couldn’t fly into the Corning/Elmira area because of the fog, so we had to fly on to Ithaca and there is no ground transportation there,” said Curione. “So we had to drive in a 1980s van from some limousine company. We finally got here about 8:30, a couple hours late.”
Meeting up with Curione in the garage area Sunday morning was Curione’s close friend, retired Western New York race driver Kirk Sherwood and his 4-year-old son Jordan.
“Yeah, we’ve been friends for a long time and it is really nice for him to let us come here and hang out with him today,” said Sherwood, who was a regular late model driver at Lancaster and Holland who also had a few Busch North series starts. “I live in Akron now and I have two kids and I’m married so I don’t race drive anymore. I just go and watch racing now and I’m getting ready for,” Jordan “to start racing. He’s 4 and he’ll start in Go-Karts next year at Bliss Speedway. So the Sherwood name will be out there again.”
When asked if he is excited to start race driving, young Jordan had a quick answer: “Yes”.
Curione will turn 44 this year and has been on the road for years, dating to his time with the Rainbow Warriors pit crew that helped Jeff Gordon win championships.
“I know that I have been doing this for a lot of years and as of right now, I think I have one more year left in me,” said Curione after the race. “Right now I’ll leave New York today and head back home and get ready for next week at Michigan knowing that today’s visit back to my home state went all right.”
Niagara Falls native Rodney Fetters was in Victory Lane here last year when he was the jack man for Marcos Ambrose. Fetters is now a pit coach at Roush-Fenway Racing.
“I coach all the Nationwide Series cars that are in the Roush organization, which also encompasses the No. 43,” Aric Almirola, “Cup Series car for the Petty organization because we’re partners with them,” said Fetters. “Some of my young people are also pitting the No. 32 car today with Boris Said, which is Frank Stoddard’s FAS Racing team and also the No. 35 for Michael McDowell.
“I’m a full-time coach now. I retired from the Cup Series as a jack man even though I made a few cameo appearances this year in both the Nationwide Series and the Grand-Am series. I can pit a car and teach all at the same time if needed.”
Ryan Newman continued his solid season, finishing 14th.
Blasdell native Jeff Kuhn is a gas runner for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 39 Chevrolet, which is driven by Newman.