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NASCAR Watkins Glen Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, August 12, 2011

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Last year's winner Juan Montoya
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will conduct its semi annual endurance contest that comes with the drivers having to make left and right turns on a road course. This endurance contest will be staged on one of the most historic and challenging road courses in the country: The Watkins Glen International Raceway, also the scene of Sunday's Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips At The Glen.

During the course of this race it won't take long to determine which drivers are getting very proficient at turning left and right and which ones needs to figure it out. You will also see a lot of bumper banging and door pounding during this race. Most of these incidents will be deemed accidental because it's the basic nature of road course racing. However, somewhere during this race, the element of road rage will likely show itself. That's when the bumper banging and door pounding could become accidentally on purpose not to mention entertaining.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Let's get right to it, we all know what the big story is going to be during the pre race show: of course it's Jimmie Johnson versus Kurt Busch. You can expect multiple video clips of these two drivers beating on each other during the final moments of last Sunday's race at Pocono. You will also be treated to multiple audio sound bites of their finger pointing-chest heaving exchange on pit road after the race.

It's it possible that one of these drivers might extract some revenge at Watkins Glen? I suppose it's possible but not probable. They certainly how more important issues to focus their attention on. One of them is collecting bonus points between now and the September 10th cut off date that will determine the Chase For The Championship official line up. Bonus points that comes from a win, leading a lap and leading the most laps in a race could loom large later in the season when it's time to start the Chase.

The ill will between Johnson and Kurt Busch seemingly dates back to the summer of 2009, the scene of the Sprint Cup's other road course race. If their problems have been going on this long, then holding off retaliation plans for another time, like next year, should be easy. They need to be keeping their eyes on the grand prize over the next several weeks.
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You will hear a lot this weekend about the presence of road course ringers in Sunday's race. These group of drivers have years of experience at making high speed left and right turns and, over the years, they have been popular substitute drivers for team owners.

However in these modern times, the importance of the roles of these ringers seems to have diminished somewhat. That's likely due to the fact that many of the younger Sprint Cup drivers launched their racing careers in go karts where road courses were a factor. For the veteran drivers, whose roots were created in stock cars on ovals, many of them enrolled in one of the many driving schools that teaches the rigors of road course racing.

From the group of road course ringers entered in the Watkins Glen race there seems to be two major standouts: Boris Said and Ron Fellows. However, neither one of these drivers will be driving for teams exactly known for charging to the front. Said will be piloting the #51 Chevrolet owned by James Finch while Fellows will be in the #36 Chevrolet fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing. The big advantage of hiring these drivers on a one race basis is the possibility they will be able to achieve a higher that usual finish for these teams. That will translate into more purse money which an underfunded team always needs.
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Sadly, there will be reports this weekend regarding a major drug related arrest involving two employees from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, EGR. Trevor L. Lysne, a front tire changer for Juan Pablo Montoya's #42 team, was arrested by police in Huntersville-North Carolina and charged with trafficking marijuana, possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana and maintaining a dwelling to distribute marijuana, Also arrested in this case was Jerome D, Frye, an EGR mechanic, who was charged with trafficking marijuana and intent to sell. According to reports police intercepted approximately ten and one half pounds of marijuana that had been shipped from California.

It's only fair to point out that the behavior and arrest of these two men have absolutely nothing to do with the day to day operations of EGR. This incident is an embarrassing moment that the racing organization doesn't deserve.
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Kevin "Happy" Harvick was a very happy man last Wednesday when he got to stand on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch of a game between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels. A long time Yankees baseball fan, Harvick was really happy after New York won the game 9 to 3. How is that somewhere from Bakersfield-California isn't an Angles or Dodgers fan?
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For you faithful Wal-Mart shoppers be on the look out for a new Hot Wheel toy car called the Hammerhead. The new car was designed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The design was described as being classic 1950's hot rod meets 1960's muscle car styling with an edge. There will also be a corresponding line of Hammerhead apparel. Earnhardt called his design Hammerhead in honor of one of his many former nick names. The suggested retail price for the car will be $1.09 with the price of the clothing line ranging from $7 to $12. They will be exclusively available very soon at a Wal-Mart near you.
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THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

When it comes down to which driver might do the best job at turning left and right at Watkins Glen, it's best to look at the numbers presented by the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

The listing begins this week with a name that you rarely see mentioned by the WSE unless NASCAR is racing on a road course. Marcos Ambrose, every one's favorite Aussie and one of the best road course drivers in NASCAR, is on top of the WSE rankings this week at 9 to 1 odds. He has a very healthy 2.7 Average Finish Ratio,(AFR), in three starts at Watkins Glen,

At 7 to 1 you will find Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya. At ninth in the points, Stewart needs a race win to bolster his Chase possibilities and Watkins Glen is definitely the track to make that happen because his numbers are so good there. He's a five time race winner in 12 starts. He's also collected seven top five finishes, ten top tens and has a very good AFR of 5.4. He has a total of seven overall road course wins in NASCAR and that's another reason why he considered to be a rock solid wager consideration.

Meanwhile Montoya has to be considered a long shot wager despite the fact he's the 2010 race winner and has a 12.5 AFR at the Glen. The issue here is the up and down performance issues that has plagued this team all season long.

At 8 to 1 odds you will find the Busch brothers. Third in the current points standings, Kyle Busch is the 2008 race winner and has a healthy 10.3 AFR at the Glen. Kurt Busch is still seeking his first win in New York and has an 18.0 AFR there. However he does have a road course win earlier this year on the road course at Infineon Speedway.

At 9 to 1 odds you will find Hendrick Motorsports team mates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. When it comes to NASCAR road course racing, Jeff Gordon is the man. He's a four time winner at the Glen and has six top fives, nine top tens and a 14.6 AFR. Gordon also owns the tracks qualifying record, 124.580 MPH, set back in 2003. He also has a series high total of nine NASCAR road course wins. Frankly, it's a little surprising that this rock solid wager isn't at the top of the WSE rankings.

Despite the fact that he has a previous win at Infineon, Johnson is not exactly noted for being a strong road course racer. In nine previous starts, Watkins Glen is one of five tracks on the NASCAR schedule that Johnson has never won at. But let's face it: it's Johnson the five time champion, it's Chad Knaus and it's Hendrick Motorsports. Those factors alone are always going to make this driver a solid wager consideration.

Kevin Harvick is next on the WSE list at 10 to 1 odds. He's a previous race winner at the Glen and has a 13.6 AFR.

Leading off the WSE's middle tier this week is the Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards. He still looking for his first win at the Glen in six starts but, despite that, has an healthy 8.2 AFR there.

At 18 to 1 we have the duo of Jamie McMurray and Robby Gordon. McMurray's presence this high on the list is a bit of a mystery to me. He has one top five at this track and his AFR is 18.4. He's also having a terrible season with a team that hasn't come close to living up to their pre season expectations.

Robby Gordon's unusually high WSE ranking this week is obviously based on his road course skills. He a previous race winner at the Glen, he has seven top fives and tens along with a 13.3 AFR. If this team can locate the extra horsepower their car needs and then lose the bad luck they endured this year then he could be an interesting driver to watch on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin is ranked at 20 to 1 odds for Sunday's race. At 11th in the points standings, with one win, here's another driver who needs another victory to solidify his Chase possibilities. But it may not happen at Watkins Glen. Hamlin doesn't seem to have very strong road course numbers.

At 25 to 1 we have the duo of Ryan Newman and Casey Kahne followed by the aforementioned Boris Said at 28 to 1. The duo of Clint Bowyer and A J Allmendinger are ranked at 35 to 1. Closing out the WSE rankings this week, at 45 to 1, are Greg Biffle, Paul Menard and Joey Logano.

If you do not see the name of your favorite driver on this list that means they are listed under "all others" by the WSE at 8 to 1.

(A brief pause here while the massive fan club known as the Junior Nation screams "HEY, WHERE'S OUR GUY" ???).

Dale Earnhardt Jr will be the first driver to tell you how much he doesn't like road course racing and he's got the numbers to back it up. We have watched the #88 free fall from third in the points standings to the #10 Chase bubble position. Here's a driver that seriously needs a strong finish, at least a top ten, Sunday to keep his Chase hopes alive. I just don't think it's going to happen at Watkins Glen. Sorry about that Junior Nation.

Also in this same category is Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin and, frankly, I'm not understanding why that is. In 21 starts he's won three times at Watkins Glen. He has a series high three poles and has won his three races from the pole position which is also a series record. He also has 12 top fives and 16 top tens at the Glen. If you're into stretching Benjamins into long shot bets, you may want to consider Martin's numbers at this track.

The disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind that these posted numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races. Some will tell you that betting on a road course race, with its unpredictability, is a little crazy. I will tell you that I witnessed crazier things than that in a Nevada casino just last weekend.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips At The Glen is 90 laps/220.5 miles around the Watkins Glen 2.45 mile road course. The projected pit window, based on fuel mileage, is approximately 27 to 30 laps. 

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of the top 35 in NASCAR owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race. The lone exception here is Terry Labonte who can make the race on a past champion's provisional.

This historical road course facility opened in 1956. The first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen was held back in 1957 and was won by Buck Baker. There wasn't another Cup race there until 1964 and 1965. That was followed by a span of 21 years before the Cup series returned to the speedway on a full time annual basis.

There has been 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup events held at the Glen that has sent 17 different winners to victory lane. To no real surprise, Hendrick Motorsports leads the team wins list at six.

Track position is always going to be a huge factor during a Cup race and this is especially true at a road course event. Nine of the 28 races have been won from pole position with the last one being Kyle Busch back in 2008. 18 of 28 have been won from top five starting positions and 20 of 28 have been won from the top ten.

Watkins Glen International's 2.45 mile road course has 11 turns with seven of them being right handers. The banking in those turns range from six to ten degrees. The front stretch measures 2,148 feet long while the back stretch is 1,839 feet. The speedway presently has seating for 41,000 fans.

Unfortunately, for the second race in a row, weather could play a huge role during the Watkins Glen weekend. Saturday's forecast calls for partly sunny skies, daytime highs in the low 80's and a 40% chance of showers and thunder storms. The news is not any better on Sunday race day. That forecast calls for cloudy conditions, daytime highs in the mid 70's and a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms. In the event of rain the track has a fleet of eight jet dryers available but they will require approximately two hours to completely dry the track.     

The Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips At The Glen will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the "NASCAR Countdown" show beginning at 12 pm eastern time. Race re broadcasts will be Monday morning, 12 am eastern, on ESPN2 and again on Wednesday, 12 pm eastern, on the SPEED Channel.

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