Just five races remain until the start of the Chase, with the next top scheduled for Sunday in up-state New York at Watkins Glen International. The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, the second and final road course event of the season, is a 90 lap jaunt around The Glen’s 2.45 mile course, complete with 11 turns and banking between 6 and 10 degrees. Any mention of favorites for Sunday’s race would have to include Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the June Sonoma event, Tony Stewart, one of the hottest road course drivers of late, plus Marcos Ambrose and Juan Montoya, two drivers with a ton of career experience on this type of track with other series’. Not coincidentally, that group of drivers represents the Top 4 in average finish at road course events since the start of the ’07 season.
Tony Stewart is an obvious choice for favorite, as he leads the circuit in average finish at road courses since 2007, at 4.3. He is the defending champion of this race, and moreover, has actually won five of the last eight Watkins Glen events. It’s quite obvious that he prefers this road course over the Sonoma track. Still, he has scored a Top 10 finish in all seven of the road course events run in the COT. Jimmie Johnson hasn’t been recognized as a road course ace throughout his career, but understanding these tracks were one of his “weak spots”, he has worked hard at improving on them. The work paid off in June when he scored his first road win of his career at Sonoma. Over the last seven road events, Johnson has an average finish of 8.4 with four Top 10’s. However, he would not have won in June without benefitting from a caution flag minimum speed violation by Marcos Ambrose, who was on pace for a first ever win before the problem. Ambrose has a solid career road course average finish of 11.2 with four Top 10’s in five starts. Juan Montoya has been a bit better with six Top 10’s in seven starts and an average finish of 10.3. Vegas Odds
Kyle Busch has to be given strong consideration as well as the series heads to Watkins Glen. He has been out front at the road course events more than any other driver since 2007, leading 155 laps. That is 66 more than Jimmie Johnson, and 81 more than Tony Stewart. He has two wins to his credit as well during that time span, with one of them coming at the Glen in 2008. Along with that, he owns four other Top 10’s in the seven starts. The other two drivers who figure to be in the mix are Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon, both of whom are the only other drivers not mentioned to this point with five Top 10’s in the last seven road course races. Although neither has a win in that span, Gordon has been out front for 51 laps, and Hamlin 36. Betting Lines
Beyond the seven drivers detailed up to this point, any other winner reaching Victory Lane would be a sizeable upset. Current Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick is a possibility, with a win in 2006 here to his credit. Kasey Kahne could pull a surprise too, as he is the only other driver to have won a road race in the COT. Of course, it always makes sense to at least consider the drivers who have been running well of late, and that group would include Greg Biffle, last week’s winner at Pocono, Carl Edwards, the third place finisher a week ago, plus Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, Harvick’s Childress Racing teammates who seem to be getting hot at just the right time. As usual, there will be plenty of road course ringers on hand to substitute as drivers for their respective teams. The most notable one is Boris Said, who will be filling in for Reed Sorenson in the #83 Red Bull Toyota. Still, no non-regular driver has ever won a Cup series road event, a fact quite puzzling.
For every driver that loes the road course events, there is one that hates them. For Sunday, the list of drivers you might want to steer away from include David Reutimann, David Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Reutimann has an average finish of just 29.8 on road courses in the COT, without a single Top 10 finish nor lap led. Ragan & Martin share the same Top 10 and laps led deficiency and an average finish of at least 24.0. McMurray & Junior have combined to lead 69 laps during that stretch but neither has a Top 10 finish to show for it along with an average of 23.6 or worse. Sports Scores
Greg Biffle’s win last week enabled him to gain key ground in his quest to lock up a Chase spot. Sitting in 11th position, he is now 122 points in front of 13th place Mark Martin. Clint Bowyer is in between them, but 88 points behind Biffle. Martin is really the only driver who maintains a spot in contention for qualifying for the Chase, as 14th place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 129 points out of 12th place with Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and David Reutimann all trailing him by less than 55 points. The top spot remains unchanged with Kevin Harvick holding a 189-point lead over Jeff Gordon. The big winner last week was Jeff Burton, who climbed two spots to 5th, while Kurt Busch fell a pair of spots to 7th.
This week’s qualifying is scheduled for 11:10 AM ET on Saturday. A recent statistical study by StatFox has revealed that the combination of qualifying and practice speeds has proven more critical at Watkins Glen than at any other track in terms of finishing in the Top 10. In fact, of the previous 23 races here, 12 winners have started in the top 3, and none have ever started outside 18th. The average starting position of the winner is 6.2. The average Happy Hour rank is 9.4. The green flag for the race drops at 1:18 PM ET on Sunday. As always, the StatFox NASCAR FoxSheet, Driver Pages, & Matchup Analyzer are here to prepare you for all of the race action…