While Kurt Busch put on a clinic last weekend at Pocono, the rest of the Chase hopefuls put in good finishes to accentuate the point of why they are the best of the best. With all 14 main Chase contenders finishing in the top 17, it wasn’t hard to put up a good fantasy number last weekend. But this week’s Centurion Boats at the Glen will likely be a different story. Road-course racing isn’t for everyone, with a few key drivers normally stealing the show. However, crazy things can happen when you’re going left and right on the Nextel Cup circuit, and sometimes an unexpected hero can emerge. So, which drivers have we selected to make you look like a Fantasy King or Queen this week? Read this week’s Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans to find out.
Cami’s Race Rewind
Kevin Harvick scored his first road-course victory and second win of 2006 in last year’s AMD at the Glen. Harvick led 28 laps during the race, including the final three after passing old friend, and sometimes foe, Tony Stewart. When the race restarted with just five laps to go, Stewart, who was looking for his third straight win at the Glen, made his way by Harvick for the lead, but it didn’t last long and Harvick sailed to victory. Jamie McMurray, Robby Gordon and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. Halfway through the event, Kurt Busch looked to be on his way to completing the Watkins Glen weekend sweep – but a miscommunication on pit road cost him his shot at winning. Busch was called into the pits just seconds before they were opened, and the resulting penalty from NASCAR put him at the back of the pack. After battling to make up lost ground, Busch, who led a race high 38 laps, made contact with Matt Kenseth and ended the day in 19th.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Watkins Glen does not require near the technical driving savvy that Sonoma does, so the possibility of people who are average road-course racers coming home with a quality finish is far higher in New York than it is in California. With the CoT making its debut at the track, the cream will still rise to the top, and the usual list of suspects will be near the front. Jeff Gordon is the king of the road, so you can never discount him. Stewart has been on fire at the Glen, winning three of the last five races there. Defending champ Harvick should also be a factor, and don’t count out DEI – their CoT program is strong, and either of their top two drivers could sneak into a top-five finish.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Jeff Gordon is THE man on road courses in NASCAR. He may have not won at Watkins Glen in five years – without a top-10 finish during that same time period – but there is no way to discount the best road-course racer in the series. Expect Gordon to run up front all day and bring home a solid top-five finish this weekend to lock him into the Chase.
Juan Pablo Montoya has raced in two road-course races this year in stock cars, and he has won both of them – pretty heady statistics if you get right down to it. True, he has never raced at Watkins Glen and the course isn’t as demanding as Sonoma, but Montoya is the best road-racing driver in the series right now. Expect him to be near the front by the end of the day and come home with a sure top five, if not a win.
Sit ‘Em Down:
JJ Yeley just found out that he will not be back in his ride next year; that’s not exactly the news you want to hear to turn the corner at a track where your one career finish was 33rd. Yeley is certainly not in the right frame of mind to put on much of a performance on a road course this weekend. This is probably the worst possible time to run Yeley in a race; just let him get his feet back under him for now and consider him later in the year.
Elliott Sadler is not that bad of a road-course racer; he has an average finish of 21st in seven races at the Glen. However, Evernham Motorsports is still chasing their tail, and their CoT program hasn’t lit the world on fire. With the state of his organization and their overall racing luck this year, Sadler is our Evernham driver of the week to sit.
Roll the Dice:
Robby Gordon needs to win a little cash to help pay for that fine he incurred in the great white North last weekend. Keep in mind Gordon had the car to beat at Sonoma earlier this year, but poor pit strategy cost him a shot at the race win. He’ll be out to make up for that at the Glen on Sunday; look for him to put on a road-racing clinic, driving to the front for most of the race. If he can keep his emotions under control, Gordon will bring home a top-five finish this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
After two straight wins, Stewart cooled off a bit at Pocono with a sixth-place finish. But this weekend, look for Smoke to make it three out of four with another trip to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. With three wins and an average finish of 6.8 in eight starts at the track, Stewart has to be considered one of the pre-race favorites. The Joe Gibbs Racing CoT program has also been strong this year, which Stewart showed at Sonoma in June when he finished sixth. Last year’s runner-up in this event should be up there mixing it up for the win again this season.
One of the other favorites this weekend is defending race winner Harvick. Coming off a second-place finish at Sonoma earlier this year, Harvick and Co. have a newfound success on the road courses. In six races at Watkins Glen, Harvick has never finished lower than 15th, collecting four top-10 finishes in the process. He may not be one of the first drivers that spring to mind when you think road-course ace… but he should be.
Sit ‘Em Down:
This is one of those hunch calls… but this might be the week to rest Busch. Granted, he is coming off a big win at Pocono, and led the most laps in the race here last year – but looking at his average finish at Watkins Glen, he might not be worth the risk. In six starts, he has just one top 10 and an average finish of 25th. Add to that the fact he was 22nd at Sonoma in the CoT earlier this year, and it sounds like a good time to give Busch a break. He has to come back down to earth sometime, right?
Another driver who is likely to struggle this weekend is Greg Biffle. He has had a few solid runs the past two months, only to drop back towards mediocrity with finishes of 15th and 22nd in the last two weeks. The only bright spot for using Biffle is that he was fifth at Sonoma earlier this year. But looking at his results from Watkins Glen – no finish higher than 30th in four starts – he’s just not worth the gamble.
Roll the Dice:
One driver who is worth the gamble this weekend is actually Busch’s teammate, Ryan Newman. Currently 14th in the standings, Newman needs a big weekend to help boost his chances of claiming one of the final spots in the Chase for 2007. He’s run well in the CoT races this year, and even though he finished 20th at Sonoma, Newman has been running well lately over the past two months. With three top 10s in five Watkins Glen starts, Newman and his Alltel crew should be able to dial in a good finish this weekend.
Cami: First off, welcome back!! I’m sure you’re happy to see Tom didn’t Crank It Up with Michael Waltrip and Jeremy Mayfield last week!
Mike: Thanks Cami, I’m glad to be back. Yes, he was a little kinder this time around. Unlike last time when he cranked up Bobby Labonte for me.
Cami: I told him last week that’s who it was. But he thought it was Kasey Kahne. Last year, Kahne would have been OK. Not so much this year. Speaking of Kahne, I see you’re going to the old standby Sit ‘Em pick… Sadler this week.
Mike: Oh, yeah – we have to have an honorary Evernham Sit ‘Em driver every week, and Elliott fits the bill. It may come up to bite me, though – Elliott isn’t too bad of a road course racer. But I just feel like EMS is still chasing their tail. Meanwhile, I’m sure Sterling Marlin would be glad to see you are sitting the bug-eyed fool this week.
Cami: Well, Biffle was fifth at Sonoma, but his record at the Glen is just plain ugly! Plus, I think the team is due for another streak of bad luck.
Mike: I have to agree – a best finish of 30th is nothing to brag about. I was actually surprised you are sitting Busch, though. He is actually a pretty decent road racer – all he needs is to catch some luck. He won the pole on both road courses season… I think you may regret that choice. I’ll bet some money he finishes ahead of the No. 18 car this weekend.
Cami: But I think he’s due to stumble a bit before the Chase, and the Glen could very well be it. It is a gamble, but something always seems to come up and bite him in the butt (or is it ear?) at this track. He only has one top 10 there, and as long as they are both in the 30s, I don’t care if Kurt is 31st and JJ is 32nd.
Mike: We’ll see. I think JJ is going to be terrible the rest of the year. Now that he knows he won’t be back, he really has nothing left to race for but auditioning for new jobs, and I can’t believe he’s going to be getting the best stuff coming out of JGR. But while Yeley struggles, I’m curious to see just how well Newman can do. He is a surprisingly decent road racer, and the Penske crowd has been coming around of late. I’ll still take my Roll the Dice driver over yours.
Cami: Yeah, I was waiting to get to that. I was going to be nice and ask you if you wanted Robby or Montoya for Roll the Dice… but then, I came to find out you snagged them both. I’ll have to check the rulebook, but I don’t think that’s fair. You might get a penalty for jumping the gun on that one.
Mike: Oh, sure; considering you took the two top average finishers as your Crank ’em up drivers, I’m not feeling a whole lot of guilt over grabbing the best full-time road course boys.
Cami: Wouldn’t it be funny if Robby’s new addition to his team, Marcos Ambrose, comes in and beats the boss?
Mike: It would be quite humorous to see Marcos come in and run well. I think that is going to be a stretch, though, considering it is his first time in a Cup car and they were fitting him for the seat as late as Wednesday. But I hope he runs well and I give Robby a lot of credit – that was a class move offering him the ride.
Cami: Back to your earlier dig at me, I don’t know what you’re whining about. It’s not like Jeff Gordon is really a bad pick at a road course race. As long as they don’t get caught cheating again, he should be a solid pick.
Mike: Solid, yes, but he hasn’t had a top 10 at the Glen in five years. I was surprised to see that when I was looking into the averages this week. Needless to say, he’s due for a good run.
Cami: I wouldn’t have figured that either. But Gordon’s having nothing but good runs this year so far. I’ll guess we’ll have to see how it pans out this week.
Crank ‘Em Up – 13.5
Sit ‘Em Down – 23.5
Roll the Dice – 19.2
Crank ‘Em Up – 12.2
Sit ‘Em Down – 22.5
Roll the Dice – 18.4