The Sprint Cup Visits Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen, which has been on the NASCAR circuit since 1956, is one of the oldest racetracks on the NASCAR circuit. It is also one of two road courses that Sprint Cup drivers visit each year, the other being Infineon in Sonoma, California. Watkins Glen has 11 turns with seven of them being to the right.

In this season’s first road course race, Kasey Kahn, who is presently eighth in the standings, earned the victory. The win at Infineon was his first and only of the season. Will Kahn make it two road course wins in a row?

In the past 12 years, both Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have been to the winner’s circle four times. Other winners include Kyle Bush (2008), Kevin Harvick (2006), Robby Gordon (2003) and Steve Park (2000). From 1997 through 2001, Jeff Gordon owned the track, winning three straight and four out of five times. Then from 2002 to 2007, it was Stewart who took the lead, winning four of six years with two straight victories in 2004 and 2005.

In this year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon, where Kahn took his first-ever road course win and his first win in 37 starts, Tony Stewart finished second. After Stewart, came Marcos Ambrose (3rd), Jimmie Johnson (4th), Denny Hamlin (5th), Juan Pablo Montoya (6th), AJ Allmendinger (7th), Clint Bowyer (8th), Jeff Gordon (9th) and Elliot Sadler (10th). Ambrose and Montoya both do well on road courses and are always a threat to take the race at Watkins Glen.

The top performers on the circuit thus far this season include Tony Stewart (3188 points), Jimmie Johnson (2991 points), Jeff Gordon (2989 points), Kurt Bush (2751 points), Denny Hamlin (2713 points), Carl Edwards (2665 points), Kasey Kahn (2642 points), Juan Montoya (2631 points) and Mark Martin.

Here’s the way that this race could play out. Tony Stewart certainly looks ready to win this week. Not only did he end up second at Infineon, he excels on road courses. But you can’t rule out Ambrose, who came in third at Infineon and is 18th in the standings. He’s also a dangerous road course racer. The other three guys who will be in the mix are Juan Montoya, who is ninth in the standings and came in sixth in Sonoma, Denny Hamlin, who is fifth in points and ended up fifth at Sonoma and Jeff Gordon, who is third in the Sprint Cup standings and finished ninth at Infineon.

Where is the smart money on the race at Watkins Glen? It’s on Stewart and here’s why. Not only is Stewart a fine road course driver, over the past four years he has finished either first or second. In 2007 and 2005, he won the race and in 2008 and 2006, Stewart placed second. He not only owns this track, it’s almost as if he built it.

The next most likely winner is Hamlin. He’s running well and has a history of strong finishes at the Glen, ending up in the top 10 three years straight. Jimmie Johnson does not have one road course victory to his credit but in the past six years he’s been in the top 10 at the Glen four times.

Three racers who should be strong finishers at Watkins Glen are Gordon, Ambrose and Montoya. Gordon can be considered a long shot here, not because he’s a bad road course racer. He’s actually accomplished at running tracks with more than four turns. But he has not done well at Watkins Glen. Ambrose was third at the Glen last season. That was his first Cup race ever. He’s had a strong season and proved to be a fine force at Infineon. Montoya is an accomplished driver who has proven to be especially consistent this season. Of these three, I think he has the best shot at upsetting the favorite, Stewart.

With all of that said, here’s my ranking of which guys have the best shot at taking this week’s Sprint Cup race.

Best Chances of Winning

1)    Tony Stewart—owns the track, is in first in the standings and can take those turns.

2)    Juan Pablo Montoya—having a great year, knows how to race on the road, offers consistency.

3)    Denny Hamlin—is also having a fine season and has run well at this track.

4)    Marcos Ambrose—was third at Infineon this year and third at the Glen last year. Could he parlay those performances into a win?

5)    Jeff Gordon—proven track record in road racing and is having another fine season. Strong finish at Infineon once again this year.

6)    Jimmie Johnson—was top five at Infineon and is a consistent performer at the Glen. He’s having yet another great season.

There you have it. Enjoy the race, it should be a great one.

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