- Mike Massaro
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- The pool of potential winners at Watkins Glen on Sunday will be much smaller than it could be. But as somebody once said, "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains."
Torrential downpours Thursday evening soaked the Watkins Glen International Raceway. Subsequently Friday's qualifying session was cancelled due to a combination of fog and residual water seepage up through the track. Instead of time trials, owner's points have established Sunday's grid. While this is great for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon who will start on the front row, it's devastating for part-time drivers Scott Pruett, Boris Said and Klaus Graff, who will not start at all.
"It's terrible," said Pruett, who would have driven a fourth entry for Chip Ganassi racing. "Unfortunately that's the gamble you play when you don't do many races."
While Pruett's car was ranked just 52nd in owners' points, he was arguably among the pre-race favorites heading into the weekend. Earlier this year at Sonoma, in the season's only other road course race, Pruett finished third.
"All the work and energy and money that's gone into coming here, testing and building the cars and doing the whole thing, and knowing that we have a shot to be one of the true contenders for this race, having to load up and go home is painful," added Pruett, who in five Watkins Glen races has posted two top-10 finishes including fourth in this race last season.
Said, who finished sixth at Sonoma in June, was another road course specialist who figured to make an impact this weekend. Since filling in for the injured Jerry Nadeau last season, MB2 Motorsports has counted on him for the road races and had invested significant amounts of money and time to ensure Said would be competitive.
"I had the best car I ever had in my life, so to watch them put it in the trailer was kind of sad," lamented Said, who had a similar feeling at Watkins Glen in 2000 when he was bumped from the field when rain washed out qualifying then.
Being beaten by rain is especially difficult for Graff, a German road racer who made seven transcontinental trips in the last eight months to prepare for this season's two road course events.
"It's hard because where I come from, no matter how hard it rains we race," explained Graff, who made his Nextel Cup Series debut at Infineon Raceway, finishing 17th. "We were very well prepared, very optimistic and I think we could have run really, really well here. But at the end of the day that's how it is."
For the first time in four years, Goodyear did not bring its highly publicized, but scarcely used, rain tires. Nonetheless Pruett was ready to hit the track without them.
"What I couldn't believe is that literally it didn't rain all day yesterday," said Pruett. "I didn't understand that. I mean they were talking about weepers but at the same time I was a little frustrated because I've seen them go racing when there's just one dry line on an oval and they go racing."
"For us as road racers it's hard to believe or hard to accept that we couldn't run," added Graff. "The track was almost dry, [it's] just that the water was coming up through the asphalt."
Each of these drivers agree, you can't fight Mother Nature. However, it seems they each share a sense of frustration.
"The only thing that makes me mad is when you see these field fillers out there," vented Said. "You know there's a guy in a speedway car out there without even any brake ducts, just not even running minimum speed and we have a car that could win the race. So that kind of makes you mad when you watch that."
No telling who Said was referring to specifically, but Sunday's starting grid does include some drivers with significantly less impressive resumes than Pruett, Said and Graff. Among those who will take the green is newcomer Tony Ave, making his first Cup Series start driving the Stanton Hover number 80, which ranks 45th in owner points.
Another bone of contention lies in the fact that well after the plug was pulled on Cup series qualifying, the track was reopened for Busch North Series practice, leaving some to question the priority structure.
"I'm very upset that they got to run and we didn't get to run," asserted Graff's car owner Beth Ann Morgenthau. "They could have fixed the track earlier I think. It seems like there's something wrong with the whole mindset here."
While Pruett, Said and Graff are regarded as road course specialists each is hoping to diversify in the future. Pruett hopes his relationship with Ganassi leads to bigger things next year. Said will attempt to qualify for Fontana next month. And according to Morgenthau, Graff could be at Martinsville and Homestead later this season with the plan of running for Rookie of the year in 2005.
It appears the sun will come out tomorrow.
Even for these guys.
Mike Massaro covers NASCAR for ESPN and ESPN.com.
The pool of potential winners at Watkins Glen on Sunday will be much smaller than it could be. That's devastating for part-time drivers Scott Pruett, Boris Said and Klaus Graff.