Watkins Glen preview
August 11, 2011
By Micah Roberts
Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen
This weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event takes us to the Watkins Glen road course for the 22nd race of the season, which leaves us with just five races before the “Chase for the Championship” begins. For a couple of drivers, this may be their only chance to make it as wins through the first 26 races decide who makes the final two slots of the 12-driver field.
Juan Pablo Montoya won last year’s race giving him his only two Cup wins on road courses. He’s currently 21st in points and wouldn’t have shot of making it if he wasn’t in the top-20, but he’s still not mathematically out of it, although his chances are slim. Montoya was very physical in his last road course event and paid the price with some payback in that race, but there's no denying that he may be the best in the series at maneuvering in and out of the turns. He made up a lot of ground in that race and wasn't far off the pace of Kurt Busch in lap times. This week Montoya brings that same car from Sonoma which is also the same car that he won with at the Glen last year.
In a side note that may or may not have any bearing in the race, Montoya's front tire-changer got busted Tuesday for intent to distribute 10.5 pounds of marijuana from California. He used a national carrier to transport it to North Carolina. It could be argued that if the crew member was a user that the team might actually be a little bit quicker without the dope. Using FedEx or UPS to transport a load like that, are you kidding me? Obviously Earnhardt-Ganassi fired the employee, but he should have also been fired earlier for being just plain dumb.
It's very rare to see anyone within NASCAR have some kind of jurisprudence story like this come out. Through the years, the combination of drivers and employees being responsible and local Carolina law enforcement giving friendly, quiet passes have kept NASCAR out of these type of stories like so commonly seen in the NBA. But not even J.R. Rider or Damon Stoudamire can compete with this doozy of a story.
Anyways, back to the Glen and real NASCAR stuff.
Brad Keselowski won his second race of the season last week at Pocono and with that win moved into the top-20, but he’s still only in 18th-place. A lot could happen over the next five races to bump him out and negate his two wins. Right now, only Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, David Ragan and Paul Menard are drivers with wins outside of the Top-10.
Hamlin should be expected to move up while a bunch of other drivers are muddled together that don’t have wins on the season. Drivers like Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are all driving scared right now not knowing whether they should race hard for a win or play it safe for points.
Stewart is a driver who could take care of business this week and go for his sixth win on the track. His five wins are already a track record, but there’s a little bit of concern after a poor finish at the other road course on the circuit at Sonoma. He wasn’t as bad as his 39th-place finish suggests, as he was intentionally thrown into the wall by a vengeful Brian Vickers, but he wasn’t as dominant as we have seen in the past, either.
Jeff Gordon is four-time winner at the Glen and a five-time winner at Sonoma, but hasn't won a road race since 2006. It’s been since 2001 that he won at the Glen, a period that Stewart was hogging all the wins there. But Gordon did show some life at Sonoma this season with a runner-up finish. He didn’t have anything for the leader, but he battled brilliantly through the field.
The Sonoma dominator in June was Kurt Busch. He was in a class all by himself almost to the same degree we had seen Gordon and Stewart rule in years past. Watkins Glen isn’t as technical as Sonoma and doesn’t have the elevation changes, but it’s obvious that Busch and the Penske team have some extra Dodge horsepower that the others don’t. Expect him to fare similarly this week.
The driver everyone will be watching out for is Marcos Ambrose who has a third, second and third-place finish at the Glen in his three career starts. He's been about as close as anyone can be to winning so consistently without getting there. Because of that consistency, the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book has him listed as the 7/2 favorite to win.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Kurt Busch (8/1)
2) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (7/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (7/1)
5) #9 Marcos Ambrose (7/2)