Watkins Glen is the easier of the two road courses on the Nextel Cup schedule. The driving isn’t nearly as tactical, so the potential is there for drivers who are not skilled at road course racing to still have good runs. Although road racing on the Cup schedule is akin to a PETA activist at a Southern Dove opener to a large number of NASCAR fans, it does bring out true driving ability that not everyone possesses. The Glen also tends to accentuate pit strategy more than most of the Cup races, adding another twist to a track with several extra curves of its own. If you can just approach the race this weekend with an open mind, you just might realize that road course racing isn’t so bad after all…especially for your fantasy team.
AMD at The Glen
Watkins Glen International
1:00 PM on NBC
2005 Pole Sitter: Qualifying rained out
2005 Race Winner: Tony Stewart
Mike's Keys to the Race
Twists and turns, lefts and rights; this is one of the two races during the year where the car cannot be setup to simply turn left twice. Because of the road course layout, qualifying becomes very important at the Glen. Drivers can come from the back of the pack, but it isn’t easy, and poor starting spots can often result in tearing up a car that is good enough to win to a point where it can’t.
Road courses are also quite a bit about the driver. Certain drivers are good on road courses and will consistently run near the front, no matter how their car is set up. The key for those drivers who are not as good is keeping their car on the track. If a driver doesn’t have any off road excursions, they will almost certainly have a good day just because most people will. Bottom line, check out your fantasy driver’s history on this track and Sonoma, and stick with those wheelmen whose stats alone show they are good on road courses.
Cami's Instant Replay
Broken alternator? Two extra laps? Robby Gordon? No problem. Nothing or no one was going to deny Tony Stewart victory here last August. Coming off his emotional win at Indy, Stewart led a record setting 83 of 92 laps and overcame a mechanical gremlin on his way to the win in the Sirius Satellite at the Glen. Gordon made a gallant effort after starting 39th, but came up short in the end and had to settle for second. The Top 5 was dominated by road course experts, with Boris Said and Scott Pruett finishing ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who despite his 5th place finish left New York 105 points behind Stewart in the Chase.
Crank â€˜Em Up
Jeff Gordon is the king of road courses. It doesn’t matter if he is not in the Top 20 on any other style track all year, the Rainbow Warrior will always be a factor at Infineon or Watkins Glen. After the No. 24 team’s Houdini Act at Indianapolis last week, they will hopefully still have a little luck left in the bank.
Kevin Harvick is on a roll. He has four Top 5 finishes in a row to go along with five Top 10s. In fact, his last finish outside of the Top 10 was at Sonoma; although he led five laps during that race, he finished 24th. Don’t worry about his road course prowess here though; in five races at the Glen, Harvick has five Top 15 finishes and an average finish of 9.4.
Sit â€˜Em Down
Kasey Kahne is on a downward spiral. Last weekend at the Brickyard just epitomized how his luck has turned in the last six races. Since his win at Michigan, Kahne has had one Top 10 finish, with the other five results 23rd or worse. Add to that his career on road courses has produced only one Top 15, and this is definitely a week to sit him down.
Matt Kenseth may be second in the driver standings, but road racing is not his gig. He does have three Top 10s in six races at the Glen, but has never had a Top 10 at Infineon. Road racing is simply an exercise in survival for Kenseth, so this is a week to leave Matt surviving on the bench.
Roll The Dice
Scott Pruett is the best driver to race in the Cup series at Watkins Glen in the last eight years based on average finish. In the four races that he’s competed at the track, he has an average finish of 5.8. Since Pruett is guaranteed a starting spot with the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates entry back in the Top 35, this is a great week to utilize him. The road course vet should be good for at least a Top 10 finish if he can keep people from running into him like they did at Infineon.
Crank â€˜Em Up
Tony Stewart blew them away here last year to earn his third Watkins Glen victory in the past four seasons. Engine problems and a run-in on the track with Boris Said relegated him to a 28th place finish at Infineon earlier this year, ending his streak of three straight road course wins, so you can bet that Smoke will be eager to take back the King of the Road crown this Sunday. After a couple of rough weeks, Stewart is coming off back to back Top 10s and should easily add to that total here this weekend.
Before there was Jeff Gordon or Stewart, Mark Martin was considered one of the top road warriors in the series. In 40 career road course starts, Martin has finished in the Top 10 in 32 races and owned Watkins Glen in the early ‘90s, amassing three straight wins here. Only once, in his first start at the Glen in 1988, has Martin failed to finish in the Top 15. With Top 5s at Indy and Loudon, Martin looks to have shaken off the cobwebs and is starting to pick up momentum heading towards the Chase.
Sit â€˜Em Down
I'd be cautious looking back at Greg Biffle's fourth place finish earlier this year at Infineon. In seven road course starts, that was his only Top 10, and his record at Watkins Glen isn't very encouraging. The Biff's made three starts here and has yet to finish higher than 30th place. Add in the fact that he's coming off a poor finish at Indy that has dropped him back in the Chase standings, and he might try too hard to make something happen this Sunday…and watch it backfire.
Ron Fellows might be a temptation for some people to use given his road course experience. But looking at his performance at Watkins Glen over the years, you would probably be better off avoiding that urge. While he does have two runner-up finishes, they are greatly overshadowed by five finishes of 35th or worse in his eight starts at the Glen. Using road course ringers appeals to many fans, but more often than not, mechanical and durability problems rear their ugly head for him here.
Roll The Dice
In his short NASCAR career, Denny Hamlin has shown he could be the next Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon when it comes to road course racing. While he still has a lot of work ahead of him, remember, he won the Busch Series race at Mexico City and finished 12th at Infineon earlier this season. The downside to using Hamlin is wondering if his lack of experience at Watkins Glen, combined with the pressure the rookie has to feel as he battles for a position in the Chase, will get the better of him this weekend.
Mike: Do you really think Mark Martin is going to finish up front this weekend?
Cami: I think a Top 10 is certainly not out of the question.
Mike: Yes, but he has been stroking it most of the year. Don’t you think he may take it easy when so many other people are getting antsy with the Chase getting closer?
Cami: He’s coming off some good runs lately, and he can’t afford to just coast into the Chase and expect to do anything when he gets there.
Mike: You could be right.
Cami: Like I was on my picks last week? I think you sat Kahne down a week too late there buddy.
Mike: Kahne was in the top eight with 3/4 of a mile to go.
Cami: Yeah, but you only get points based on where you finish. I will cut you some slack on that one, though…why is Pruett is your road ringer of choice for this week?
Mike: Because he is money at Watkins Glen. As long as people aren’t punting him off of the road left and right like they were at Sonoma, he’ll be alright.
Cami: It’s hard not to pick guys like that, but using a specialist can be a big gamble.
Mike: Yes, but since Pruett is guaranteed a starting spot, it isn’t that big of a gamble…unlike Denny Hamlin.
Cami: Hey, he’s guaranteed a starting spot. too!
Mike: Yes, but winning a Busch race in Mexico doesn’t exactly make him a road course ace.
Cami: It doesn’t hurt, either. Plus he was 12th at Infineon.
Mike: I’ll give you that one. By the way, Stewart is a good pick, assuming none of his enemies decide to exact a little revenge this week.
Cami: I was thinking the same thing about Gordon. Good choice, but he’s been running a little too well lately…they could be due for another letdown.
Mike: I guess we’ll just have to see who's right come next Thursday!
|Crank Em Up||Sit Em Down||Roll the Dice|
|Mike||Harvick- 3rd||Martin- 5th||Elliott- 22nd|
|Kahne- 36th||Labonte- 40th|
|Cami||J. Gordon- 16th||Johnson- 1st||Stewart- 8th|
|Kenseth- 2nd||Earnhardt Jr.-6th|
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