For the final time in ’08, the Cup boys will be turning left and right as they visit another road course. Watkins Glen is one of the more historic tracks in America and it can have dramatic effects on fantasy players’ teams. This weekend affords you the chance to pick up some inexpensive road-course ringers to jump start your team. Though a ringer has yet to win a Cup race, taking a chance with one on your roster could pay large dividends. A tried and true veteran could pay off as well as the Sprint Cup drivers jockey for a spot in the Chase.
Using both pedals a lot more than normal this weekend could mean different things for different drivers. Will Kyle Busch back up his Sonoma win? Does Jeff Gordon finally take the checkers first this weekend? Can Tony Stewart finally get into his usual summer mode? Only in this week’s Picks ‘N’ Pans will you find who you should have on your roster and who should stay in the RV lot.
Bryan’s Race Rewind
One year ago, the Cup race at the Glen was Gordon’s and Stewart’s to lose. And both nearly did lose it. Stewart lost the lead on lap 44 after spinning himself out while leading, but managed to come back through the field and win after Gordon spun himself while leading with less than 10 laps to go. Stewart, along with teammate Denny Hamlin, posted a one-two finish for Joe Gibbs Racing, while future teammate Busch scored a top-10 finish as well. Hendrick Motorsports placed all four of its teams in the top 15, including three in the top 10 (Jimmie Johnson third, Busch seventh and Gordon ninth). Ron Fellows scored a fourth-place run in the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing entry. Not a single Dodge cracked the top 10 in the final running order.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Driver skill plays a more important role this weekend than any other weekend of the year. Some people argue that drivers can make a huge difference on plate tracks, but they are never more important than on a road course. Drivers who are good on road courses are always going to be good on road courses, and drivers who aren’t can become better, but will never consistently battle with the drivers who have it figured out. Looking for an organization to put your hopes in? Look no further than JGR. They won the first race of the year on a road course and certainly have the talented drivers to continue their road course success. Don’t count out Penske and Hendrick, who have also shown strength on road courses in the past.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Gordon is the winningest driver in NASCAR history on road courses. He was in position to win this race last year when he spun late in the race and relegated himself to a ninth-place finish. His team has been getting the new car configuration figured out and has been near the front in the last few races. This could very well be the start of the push for a fifth championship for Gordon if he can take the win this weekend.
Busch is certainly not synonymous with road-course racing, but he took the victory in Sonoma earlier this year. Busch has had the best season in Cup so far this year, but has gotten off of his game a little bit with some poor results the last couple of weeks. While his finishes have suffered, he has been running well before misfortune has hurt him. Look for him to sweep the road courses this year with a victory this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Bobby Labonte has not had a top 10 at Watkins Glen in seven years and hasn’t had a top 10 on any road course in six years. He also hasn’t finished higher than 24th on a road course in four years. He only has four top fives on road courses in his entire career. What it all adds up to is Bobby does some amazing things in Petty equipment, but he won’t be doing it this weekend.
Kasey Kahne sat on the pole in Sonoma. That is pretty much the extent of his road course success. He has never had a top 10 on a road course. He had a strong car this past weekend and might have won the race if his pit strategy had panned out a little better. However, there are no right turns at Pocono. Historically road courses have been extremely difficult for Kahne and this weekend is not going to be any different. Kahne will have a strong push to the Chase, but it will start after the Glen.
Roll the Dice:
Juan Pablo Montoya is one of the most talented drivers in Cup today. Looking at the success, or lack there of, that the other open wheelers are experiencing in the series this year should be a testament to that fact. While Ganassi equipment has been far from stellar this year, a driver’s talent can overcome quite a bit on a road course. Montoya was moving forward last year when he had his dust up with Kevin Harvick. While he may not win the race for fantasy players, he will almost certainly give them a strong top-10 finish.
Crank ‘Em Up:
It’s Stewart on a road course – barring the bumper of Harvick slipping and sliding out of control late again, Sunday’s race is his to lose.
While Busch and Stewart may be the only two drivers with Cup road wins on their resume, the team’s third driver, Hamlin, has proven quite the road racer in his own right. Hamlin boasts a Nationwide Series win at Mexico City, and since 2006 in both Nationwide and Cup competition has only one finish outside the top 15 on a road course. Hamlin proved he knew his way around the Glen last season, finishing runner-up to teammate Stewart. And with his FedEx team looking to score the good finish that they should have gotten at Pocono, look for the No. 11 car at the front on Sunday.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Travis Kvapil has little road racing on his stock car resume, and what is there isn’t that impressive. Kvapil’s best career finish on a road course came in 2005, scoring a 21st-place run at Infineon. Since then, Kvapil’s record includes a 33rd at the Glen in 2005, failing to qualify at Infineon in 2006, and a mediocre 22nd-place finish at Sonoma earlier this season. Kvapil and his No. 28 team stole a 16th-place finish last weekend at Pocono, but don’t be fooled… they’re still in a rut. There are better Fords, even at Yates Racing, to start this weekend.
David Ragan has come a very long way from his rookie campaign in 2007. Ragan’s best career road course finish in NASCAR’s top divisions was a 13th at Montreal in a Nationwide car; in Cup, that number falls to his 24th-place run earlier this season at Sonoma. Ragan’s career average finish on a Cup series road course is a chilly 28.33, and momentum or not there are much safer bets to make this weekend, especially on the Roush Fenway roster.
Roll the Dice:
No one, and I mean no one, can doubt Robby Gordon’s talent and passion when it comes to road racing… there are few out there that can match his ability. Gordon’s resume is also impressive, including two Cup road course wins and top-10 finishes in the last three Watkins Glen Cup races. Gordon’s cars have always been extremely fast since he established his own team in 2005… but Gordon’s sometimes a bit too fast as a driver. Gordon’s erratic driving and his team’s mechanical troubles make starting the No. 7 Dodge a big risk/reward for fantasy owners. If you’re trying to keep a lead, start someone safer. But if you’re an owner like myself needing big points and wins to catch up, it’s late enough in the season to start gambling, and Robby Gordon is a gamble to make.
Bryan: Well Mike, congrats on the win at Pocono. Carl Edwards was indeed the man on Sunday.
Mike: Very true. He was definitely a strong car all day. You didn’t do too badly with Johnson either. Its going to be interesting to see how this weekend plays out. I see you’ve put your eggs all in the Gibbs basket.
Bryan: Hard to bet against them on the road courses – Stewart’s the defending winner and LONG overdue to get his first win of the season and Hamlin’s proven to be a surprisingly good road racer who will definitely want to make up for the poor finish at Pocono. At JGR, the coolest driver right now seems to be none other than Busch. Why will he snap out of it at the Glen?
Mike: He has had some bad luck the last couple of races, but was so strong before it hit. Add to that, he won at Sonoma which is much more technical than the Glen. He needs to get the momentum back before the Chase, and I think this weekend is going to be the start of that. You’ve been all over me when I’ve sat the wunderkind Ragan this year. Why are you down on him when it comes to turning left and right?
Bryan: As much as I do think of Unadilla’s prospect, the results just haven’t been there for Ragan on the road courses, be it Nationwide or Cup. He still has yet to post a road-course top 10 in either series, and really didn’t have much to show at Infineon in June. Roush has got far better road racers on their roster to start. Interesting gamble you’re recommending for the weekend in Montoya. He’s obviously a great road racer, but do you really see him overcoming CGR’s lackluster racecars?
Mike: He overcame them enough to finish sixth at Sonoma this spring. He is without a doubt one of the best road racers in the series and I think that talent alone is going to put him in the top 10 this weekend. Similar to my Montoya pick is your roll with Robby Gordon. I know how much he focuses on road courses, but it seems as though he gets himself in trouble almost every time he runs at the Glen.
Bryan: He always seems to get in trouble at Infineon, not the Glen. Gordon’s finished second, fourth and fifth since he started his own team on the New York road course, and man, was his No. 7 team fast in testing.
Mike: It will be interesting – they definitely need a shot in the arm to get back up more solidly in the Top 35. We may be berated for not picking Harvick this weekend when that team seems to have gained some momentum back this past weekend.
Bryan: Harvick may keep the momentum going, or he may slip and slide into a corner full speed and take out a handful of frontrunners like he did at Sonoma. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.
The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.
Crank – 15.8
Sit – 17.3
Roll – 24.7
Crank – 11.3
Sit – 21.0
Roll – 20.7