Cheez-It 355 at The Glen
August 2, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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We've got the second road course race of the season this Sunday, the type of racing in NASCAR I enjoy the most, but first let's discuss how big of a win rookie Chris Buescher's was at Pocono Raceway on Monday. All the stars had to align perfectly for Buescher to become the longest shot in Las Vegas ever to win a NASCAR race. How does 1,000/1 odds sound? That's what he was posted at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook all week prior to the race.
I always say that those long shot wagers are terrible bets in NASCAR and from my time behind the counter, I loved it when people would waste their $5 and $10 bets on drivers 100/1 odds or higher.
"Thank you, hope to see you next week, too." It was easy money for the sports books, including those that took the 'field' bet saying "anything can happen."
But in the case of Pocono, when I looked at it after the fact, I understood that rain is always a factor and six races there over the years have been called final before all scheduled laps ran, and several more delayed with threats of being called. That's where the "anything can happen" part has some merit and that "anything" happened to the most extreme on Monday. Here's 1,000-to-1 worth of scenarios that had to happen for Buescher:
First of all, Buescher needed rain to cancel Sunday's race. He also needed an earlier start time Monday and he also needed fog to roll over the track. He needed great advice from veteran crew chief Bob Osborne to stay out on the track the latest after everyone pitted despite being light on fuel himself. That gave him the lead. He needed the fog to be so thick, something rarely seen at other tracks, that the caution flag dropped on lap 133, and he could conserve fuel going at the pace car speed. He needed the fog to get even thicker to the point visibility was impossible causing the red flag to drop with 22 laps remaining, which made his lack of fuel problem a non-issue with the car parked. He needed an effective rain dance when he got out of the car on pit road playing the wait game. And then he needed the fog to hover more and another storm front come over and start dropping rain making it impossible for the track to dry quick enough and for the race to start again.
He got all of that to happen, 1,000-to-1 worth of scenarios. Buescher didn't have a top-10 in the first 21 races and with the win his average finish position this season rose to 27.8. The only rookie to ever win his first race at Pocono was Denny Hamlin in 2006 - 78 races all-time -- and 11 Pocono races had passed since a Ford last won there (Greg Biffle, 2010). Multiply all the circumstances that had to take place for Buescher to win you're looking at what should have probably been 100,000-to-1 odds.
The SuperBook reported that no one took a shot with Buescher at their book, so we can't call it the longest odds to 'cash', but William Hill's chain of 106 sports books had Buescher as part of the "field" bet at odds ranging from 200-to-1 up to 300-to-1 with 28 tickets written on it totaling $128.
Despite all that stuff happening for Buescher and a few people walking tall turning their $5 bet into $1,500, I still say it's not a smart bet. But then again, if I'm so smart, how come I didn't cash an odds to win bet last week? Congrats to all those who kept at it weekly with those 'field' bets that finally cashed.
Alright, let's get back to this week's race at Watkins Glen, the 22nd race of the season and final road course race of year -- put one in the Chase please, instead of five 1.5-mile tracks for the final 10 races.
It's quite a pleasant change to see drivers make both right and left turns after watching them drive in circles in all the other races. Some drivers thrive on the courses and have a decided edge every time out while others can't wait for the weekend to end and move on to a more traditional track.
The first driver we need to talk about as a candidate to win is Tony Stewart, the winningest driver ever at Watkins Glen with five victories in 15 starts. In June, he punched his ticket into the Chase by winning at NASCAR's other road course in Sonoma, which was his eighth career road course win, second behind Jeff Gordon's nine wins for most in NASCAR history. His 11.09 average finish in 33 career road course starts is tops in the series - Gordon has a 13th-place average.
Stewart missed the first eight races of the season due to a back injury caused by a recreational off-road accident prior to Daytona Speedweeks and when he returned he was sluggish and a bit apprehensive. When the Sonoma race came around, he was still in the midst of mediocrity and I didn't even consider him a real contender to win just because he wasn't the typical Stewart I had seen from years past.
But as soon as that victory came, his first since 2013, all of a sudden he seemed to have his competitive juices flowing at full throttle again. He no longer seemed to be dragging emotionally from his role in the death of driver Kevin Ward in a non-NASCAR sanctioned Sprint race in 2014. The win brought out a more tenacious Stewart, just like the old days. His Sonoma win was his first top-five of the season, but then he went on to finish fifth at Kentucky, second at New Hampshire, 11th at Indianapolis and fifth Monday at Pocono. Yep, those sure look like finishes from classic 'Smoke'.
Now just because Stewart won at Sonoma doesn't mean he should be a favorite to win this week. Despite both being labeled road courses, Watkins Glen is a much faster track with long straights compared to Sonoma's technical course featuring elevation changes. The pole winning speed at Sonoma in June was 95.77 mph by Carl Edwards. Last August at Watkins Glen year it was A.J. Allmendinger at 127.83 mph.
But now we have Stewart on his best track with car that looks to be similar in performance to teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who have been piling up the most top-10s in the series. He's got his mind set straight and he's hungry as ever for more wins with hopes that it leads to his fourth career Sprint Cup Championship in what is his final season. Getting 10/1 odds or higher on him this week is a good play in his new state of mind.
Others that have fared well at Watkins include Edwards, who has never won there, but has an 8.4 average finish in 11 starts. Allmendinger captured his only career victory at the Glen in 2014 and this week is his only legitimate shot to make the Chase by winning.
Kyle Busch has won twice there over his career and was runner-up last season. Brad Keselowski has been runner-up three times and his teammate Joey Logano won last year for the first time on a road course.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (12/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
3) #41 Kurt Busch (9/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
5) #4 Kevin Harvick (8/1)