When the trailers loaded up and the Sprint Cup circuit left Pocono, every team was still trying to find the same answers from earlier in the season—can Dale Earnhardt Jr. be stopped?
Better yet, how can anyone catch Hendrick Motorsports as a whole?
The team now has eight wins on the season, the top two drivers in traditional points and three of the top four names on the Chase Grid. While the duo with Team Penske has been outstanding this season, nothing has measured up to the success of Hendrick.
With the series now heading to Watkins Glen, only three active drivers have multiple victories at the road course. Of course, one of those is from Hendrick, but another racer with a Hendrick engine might be looking to notch his first checkered flag of the season.
Ahead of the next road course race in New York, here's a look at the schedule, team news and top drivers for the Cheez-It 355.
Cheez-It 355 Information
Where: Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, New York
When: Sunday, Aug. 10, 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Latest Team News
Not to toot the Hendrick horn any harder, but it has to be done when speaking of team news.
Following Pocono, Hendrick is on yet another win streak this season after Jeff Gordon took the Brickyard 400. The victory for Earnhardt means the team is at the top of the points standings for another week and reclaims the top spot on the Chase Grid as well.
Junior is enjoying much more success this season but hasn't let the victories make him lose sight of the main goal. The No. 88 driver spoke about the difference between last year and this season, per Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com:
After last year, I thought 'well, the only thing we're not doing is winning.' We're doing everything else, running second, we're running well every week, so this year we have been winning. And continuing to run consistent.
Even though the rules are changing, we're understanding what we're seeing, what we're needing, and that's one of the great things about it. As the rules and stuff have changed from year to year, we have been able to adapt really well and we have came out of the gate … strong each season.
Wins may be considered the highest priority for drivers, but having consistency along with victories is what makes a championship driver. Though Junior has never captured a title in his career, he appears to be the favorite at this point to hoist the trophy when the season ends.
When it comes to Earnhardt, his 2004 run is widely considered his best year. He certainly doesn't have the six wins that he claimed that season, but ESPN Stats & Info points out one category he's already equaled:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a series-leading 10 top-5 finishes this season. That matches the most he's had in a single season since 2004.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 3, 2014
Junior and Hendrick as a whole have experienced success at Watkins Glen, but another driver will be looking to teach others how to visit Victory Lane on the road course.
Mark Martin, a three-time winner at The Glen, has now committed to becoming a developmental coach with Roush Fenway Racing. The former Roush driver knows quite a bit about road course racing and was welcomed back by Greg Biffle:
As Carl Edwards moves on next season, the 55-year-old will be the perfect coach for Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2015. With Biffle sticking around, even the veteran driver has more to learn from Martin, who won 40 races during his career.
If he can key a turnaround as quickly as this weekend with one of the three current drivers, that would be a huge change. Edwards already has a victory at Sonoma, so another road course win shouldn't come as a shock.
Drivers to Watch
It hasn't been the season Tony Stewart was hoping for thus far, but that could all change at Watkins Glen.
The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, the 43-year-old is one of only two drivers on the team outside of the Chase Grid. This past weekend, Stewart was involved in a 13-car pileup that left him on top of Paul Menard, as he shared with Marty Smith of ESPN:
Tony Stewart: Man. I tend to end up on top of Paul (Menard) a lot… IN THE CAR, I MEAN. IN THE CAR.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) August 3, 2014
He now heads to a track where he's never taken a DNF or finished off the lead lap. That's a pretty startling fact considering a simple mishap can throw a driver off course in New York.
As for the significance of a victory this week, it would mark a pretty special moment for Stewart. Just one year ago on Tuesday, Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car wreck that ended his season in 2013, per Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
Though Stewart hasn't won at The Glen since 2009 and missed last year's running, he still knows his way around the course. Just five races remain before the Chase begins, so the need for a win is high for Stewart to secure a spot.
In order to keep the streak going for Hendrick yet again and have three drivers with a trio of victories, Gordon will need to dominate in New York.
Though it's been nearly 10 years since he took a checkered flag at Watkins Glen, nothing seems impossible for the Rainbow Warrior this year. The four-time points winner still has plenty left in the tank despite retirement talk earlier in the season.
Darrell Waltrip of Fox Sports, a three-time champion in his own right, shared his thoughts on Gordon's success:
So my point with all this is when you stop and look at what he did Sunday winning his fifth Brickyard 400, combined with every other accomplishment he has achieved, Jeff Gordon really might be the greatest driver of all time.
Sunday showed yet again there should be no "R" word spoken about Jeff Gordon. He has a lot of wins left in him. I would love to see him go for 100 wins. I'd love for him to win seven championships. He can do it. After what he did Sunday, I and all his fans believe he can.
Currently sitting on 90 victories and looking for more, he might just pace the field yet again at The Glen. Despite having just one top-10 result since 2007, Gordon appears capable of doing just about anything during the 2014 season.
Who will win at Watkins Glen?
Both Stewart and Gordon experienced success earlier in their careers at Watkins Glen, but Kyle Busch is the top dog now.
After winning the Cheez-It 355 in 2013, Busch secured his eighth straight top-10 result at the arduous track. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, the younger Busch brother has four top-five finishes and has never qualified lower than 10th.
Though he showed flashes of greatness with Hendrick during his first three seasons at the track, the 29-year-old has raced at a different level with Toyota. With a driver rating higher than 124.8 in five of his races with the manufacturer, Busch looks like the favorite in New York.
Busch already has a victory this season and has his spot all but secured in the Chase. But even at eighth on the Chase Grid, another victory could boost the JGR driver to the top five with four races remaining.
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