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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Watkins Glen Preview: By the Numbers...and Beyond.

Watkins Glen International, sometimes called simply "The Glen" is located in central New York southwest of Seneca Lake. It's the second weekend in August and it's time for another installment of The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen...which, in my opinion is the longest, weirdest name to all races on the circuit. It's a 2.45 mile road course and the drivers will complete 90 laps covering 220.5 miles on Sunday afternoon in an attempt to take home the trophy at the end of the day.

Tony Stewart won last year's August race at The Glen. He's had some success recently, including a second place finish at Pocono last week and a fifth place run at The Brickyard. Tony also won at The Glen in 2007, 2005, 2004, and 2002 making Smoke the man with the most wins at Watkins Glen. Mark Martin holds the records for the most starts from the pole (3), the most top fives (12), and most top ten finishes (16) but had a fairly disappointing 23rd place finish at The Glen in 2009 and has not been running strong of late. The Glen has generally been kind to Martin though; Mark won at Watkins Glen in 1994, 1995, and 196. We could very well see Mark close to the front at the end of Sunday's 90 laps.

Jeff Gordon has led the most laps at Watkins Glen with 227. He also holds the record for the fastest qualifying speed from a 70.798 second lap turned in 2003. 2009 was not good for Gordon, Jeff was part of an accident in last year's race and finished 29 laps down; Jeff has something to prove to this road course. Sitting comfortably in second place in Cup Series Standings, Jeff can afford to drive it like he stole it this weekend and try to get that elusive win he has been searching for since April 5, 2009 when he last won at Texas. Prior to that win Jeff had ridden along on a 47 race winless streak. I'm predicting the current winless streak of 50 will grow to 51 this week but that Jeff will finish in the top ten.

Marcos Ambrose has a little something of his own to prove after his infamous screw up at Infineon earlier in the season. While trying to save fuel, the road course aficionado stalled his car to give Jimmie Johnson the win at Infineon Raceway. Marcos has been toted as a road course expert - he finished second at The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen last year and had a good chance to win at Infineon this year. Ambrose has a plan this weekend and it's not to come in second. What about Jimmie Johnson? He proved he can tame a road course in June he's coming back to show that wasn't a one-time fluke. Johnson finished 12th in last year's event and is coming off of a 10th place finish last week at Pocono. Jimmie has never won at Watkins Glen - this is one of only four courses on the current NASCAR circuit that Johnson has not won at. Sitting in fourth position in the Chase he can gamble a bit on this road course and run hard for that first time track win without worrying about his points placement.

Points leader Kevin Harvick has also had success at this track. Harvick won in 2006 but finished 35th in 2009 after getting caught up in a spin by David Stremme on lap 23. Kevin is coming off of a 4th place finish at Pocono and second place at The Brickyard; he's consistently performing strongly and is ready for another win. Kyle Busch is another driver who has shown that he can be competitive at Watkins Glen. Kyle finished fourth in last year's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen and won the event in 2008. Coming off a 23rd place finish at Pocono last week, 8th at Indy, and 17th at Chicago Kyle is sliding backwards in the points standings. Sitting in 6th place with five races to go before the Chase for the Championship begins Kyle doesn't want anymore finishes outside of the top five. Kyle can be more aggressive than usual when he wants a race badly; winless in Cup racing since winning at Dover in May, Kyle will need to watch how aggressively he attacks this road course or he could find himself pointing the wrong direction with the field flying by.

Juan Pablo Montoya has proven he can handle the curves of road courses. Montoya scored his first (and only) Cup Series win in 2007  at the road course in Sonoma and has posted wins in F1 racing on road courses and in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He finished 6th at The Glen in 2009 and I expect a similar finish from Montoya on Sunday. Max Papis is one of those names that seldom comes up unless we are at a road course. Papis brought home a 8th place finish last year in this event but finished last at Sonoma after being involved in a four-car accident. Max is another so-called "road course ringer" who has a vast amount of experience on road courses from other auto racing series. He can run through the corners strong and pass in places others won't go. Watch for Max to be near the front by the halfway mark in Sunday's race.

Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin round out my top ten for this week. Clint came home with a 9th place finish last year at Watkins Glen and has made a strong run this season towards making the Chase for the Championship. Bowyer's crew had been doing a great job of getting the car comfortable for Clint and keeping it there throughout recent races. Coming off of top ten finishes at three of the five last Cup races Clint is in 12th place in the Cup Points Race. Bowyer can't afford a bad finish this week; there are many drivers knocking on the door to that 12th place points spot. Clint does not want to give anyone an opening that could keep him out of the Chase to the Championship. Denny Hamlin brought a 10th place finish at last year's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen. He's had a good year but has been in a bit of a slump lately, as compared to the first part of his season. Denny sits third in the Points after last week's 5th place finish at Pocono. I'm going with Denny and Clint as top five picks for Sunday's race.

My top ten picks for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen are Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Max Papis, Clint Bowyer, and Denny Hamlin. Mark Martin gets the nod for the win, which would make Mark the oldest winner at a Watkins Glen Cup Race by more than four years over Geoffery Bodine who won in 1996 at 47 years, 3 months and 24 days. Should Mark bring it home this week he would have the record at an age of 51 years, 7 months, and 30 days.

In other speculation I predict that we will see Dale Earnhardt Jr finishing in the mid-20's, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski will qualify near one another and cause many warnings from their crew chiefs reminding each that they are on probation, and both Joey Logano and Kurt Busch will be put out of the race through being caught up in someone else's wreck. Tune into SPEED on Friday at noon for practice, ESPN on Friday at 4pm for second practice, Saturday at 11am for Qualifying on ESPN, and Sunday at 1pm for the running of The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen on ESPN.

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