Brett Poirier · Thursday August 11, 2011
With only five races until the Chase begins, teams are taking more risks in strategy to put themselves in position to win races and score big points. Fantasy owners should be doing the same. In leagues where driver picks are limited, now can be a time to stash away ones you need for when the Chase rolls around.
By saving those picks at a place like Watkins Glen, fantasy owners aren’t necessarily putting themselves in any worse position. At this road course, many of the front runners will be drivers who have had limited amounts of success as of late such as Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya. Meanwhile, owners have a chance to score big points with these guys while saving mid-level drivers such as Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Take advantage of races like this to bench drivers you’ve been picking all year long. The payoff could be worth it.
Kurt Busch may not be thought of as a road-course racer, but Busch’s win at Infineon this season was a long time coming. This guy doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to turn left and right. Busch finished second to Montoya one year ago and was seventh in 2009. A Kurt Busch sweep of the road courses, much like Kyle Busch did in 2008, is a real possibility this weekend.
Tony Stewart has led more laps (225) than any other active driver at Watkins Glen besides Jeff Gordon (227). Stewart may take the lead in that category this weekend. In the Fantasy Insider article previewing Infineon, I wrote that Stewart and Gordon were losing their road course dominance. Stewart has proven that while he may have slipped up at Infineon, he still has it at Watkins Glen. Before finishing seventh last year, Stewart finished first or second in six consecutive races at the Glen. He has five wins at Watkins Glen and a chance to solidify his Chase chances with another on Sunday.
Ambrose is the cream of the crop when it comes to road course racing. His worst finish in three starts at Watkins Glen is third. He has two third-place finishes and a second-place finish at the New York-track. Ambrose has been mired in a mid-season slump. The No. 9 team is currently 23rd in the standings, but Ambrose is only 19 points out of the top-20. A win would probably put him back in the top-20 and give this team a small chance at the Chase.
Much like Ambrose, the second road course on the Sprint Cup schedule couldn’t come fast enough for Montoya. In the past two weeks, he has put up sub-par efforts at a pair of tracks he has had success at in the past in Pocono (32nd) and Indianapolis (28th). Like Ambrose, Montoya has also fallen out of the top-20, but a win Sunday would change everything for this team.
Montoya is always a risk for fantasy owners because of both his inconsistency this season and his aggressive driving style, which sometimes gets him in trouble. It did at Infineon, but it still may be worth picking him at Watkins Glen.
To continue the list of slumping drivers, I’ll add A.J. Allmendinger to the mix. Allmendinger is 17th in the standings right now. His only shot at getting in the Chase is to win and hope that outperforming David Ragan and Paul Menard is enough to grab the final spot. Allmendinger winning this weekend isn’t a long shot. The No. 43 was a top-five car all race last year and finished fourth. In his previous two starts, in I-barely-have-a-ride roles, Allmendinger was 11th and 13th. Don’t overlook Richard Petty Motorsports at this track.
There use to be a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when road-course ringers were looked at as legitimate threats to win a race. Not so much anymore. First off, road-course ringers aren’t given even mid-level rides like they once were and second, the series no longer has many weak road-course drivers. I don’t think drivers like Boris Said and Ron Fellows can be counted on this weekend, but it is a waste to use a driver like Ragan or Menard on a road course.
Instead, take a look at Casey Mears. Mears didn’t compete in last year’s event, but has top-20 finishes in his last three starts at Watkins Glen. Mears has shown in his career that road-course racing is his strong-suit.
Earnhardt Jr’s road course troubles were documented in the preview for Infineon. He has a best finish of 11th there and was 41st this season because of overheating issues. This team finally pulled out a decent finish last week at Pocono after six consecutive weeks of finishing outside the top-10. Don’t expect another top-10 on Sunday. This team will be lucky to get out with a top-20, which Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t pulled off since 2006. In his last four starts, his best finish is 22nd.
Said is always a popular pick at road courses for fantasy owners, but he shouldn’t always be. Said hasn’t finished in the top-10 at the Glen since 2005. Since then he is 31st, 14th, 24th, 34th and 38th. With those numbers, I’d rather take my chances on Mears, or anyone else for that matter.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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