Road courses provide an interesting quirk to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series every season, which is why all eyes will be on Watkins Glen International Sunday afternoon.
With the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup inching closer and closer, drivers are becoming desperate to reach Victory Lane. Road-course racing isn't for everyone, though, which means a select few drivers have a legitimate opportunity to come out on top.
In fact, only five different drivers who are currently active have won at Watkins Glen before. That means there is a golden opportunity available to some at the Cheez-It 355.
Here is everything you need to know about the unique and exciting Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, along with a prediction regarding who will ultimately prevail.
Where: Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York
When: Sunday, Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Steam: WatchESPN
Radio: Motor Racing Network
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|77||Nelson Piquet Jr.|
|78||Martin Truex Jr.|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
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Drivers to Watch
Although he has been labeled a road-course specialist during his Sprint Cup tenure, Marcos Ambrose has done quite well for himself. He has two career wins, and both of them have come at Watkins Glen. With the Chase approaching, Ambrose and his team are well aware that this is their best chance to get the No. 9 car in NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
Ambrose is facing a ton of pressure to win this race and qualify for the Chase, but he knows that doing so won't be easy, according to Jared Turner of FoxSports.com:
There's a lot of talk about us running well at Watkins Glen, and we expect to run well, but a lot of things have to line up for us to win that race. We'd love it if it happens, but it's certainly not a guarantee. Just congratulations to Aric (Almirola) and the (No.) 43 team. It's great for our company to have a car locked in the Chase, and if we don't make it, we're going to do everything we can to help him, but right now our focus on the (No.) 9 team is to get ourselves up in that Chase, as well.
With that said, Ambrose is extremely hopeful that he has a car good enough to make the most of his road-course prowess, per NASCAR on ESPN:
The Aussie has finished in the top five in five of his six career starts at Watkins Glen International. He hasn't had a great season to this point, but a single win can change that immediately, much in the same way it did for Aric Almirola.
Ambrose may not be a true factor if he does make the Chase; however, there is no question that he will do everything in his power to make it.
While most fans probably don't consider Brad Keselowski to be a road-course expert, he has thrived at Watkins Glen over the years. The former Sprint Cup champion is still searching for an elusive win at the track, but he has three top-fives in four tries and a fantastic average finish of 6.5 to his credit.
On top of that, Keselowski is in the midst of a fantastic season. He has piloted the Blue Deuce to three victories, which is tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson for the most in 2014. Keselowski also has nine top-fives to boot, which suggests that he is running well everywhere.
Everyone has taken notice of Keselowski's excellent form, including teammate Joey Logano. The driver of the No. 22 machine was thoroughly impressed with how Keselowski performed in practice at Watkins Glen:
Good day of practice. Cup car is fast but loose. @keselowski stupid fast. NNS car is really good. Gonna be a fun Saturday.— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) August 9, 2014
While practice and qualifying don't always translate to the race itself, Keselowski has proved that he has a great feel for this race track. He is due to win here eventually, and it could very well happen Sunday.
As a three-time Sprint Cup champion, the expectation is that Tony Stewart should make the Chase every season. With just five races remaining until the playoffs begin, though, Smoke is quickly running out of chances to qualify.
He sits a disappointing 21st in the standings and has been a virtual non-factor most weeks. Nobody has ever been better than Stewart at Watkins Glen, though, as he has won there five times and finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions. That makes him one of the clear contenders to take the checkered flag in the Cheez-It 355.
Jeff Hammond of FoxSports.com believes Stewart has a great chance, but he also feels as though he has some extremely difficult competition to deal with:
Tony can win at Watkins Glen. He has the record to prove it. The problem is Tony has a guy from Australia (Ambrose) standing in his way who might keep him from winning this weekend. While this might be Marcos' last shot at making the Chase, the cool thing about Tony Stewart is he can win anywhere anytime. So, unlike Marcos, Tony is going to have a few more opportunities after this weekend.
Hammond is right about Stewart's ability to win anywhere, but he hasn't shown many flashes of that ability this year. Watkins Glen is is almost certainly his best chance, so he will do everything he can to take advantage of it.
Ambrose, Keselowski and Stewart may very well be the three drivers vying to win this race in the closing laps, but they could have company. The likeliest possibility is Jeff Gordon, who already has two victories this season. He has won this race four times and knows that a third triumph in 2014 would put him atop the standings when the Chase starts. Because of that, he really has nothing to lose.
Who will win the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen?
Kyle Busch has won at Watkins Glen twice and finished in the top 10 in eight of his nine starts. Although he has a win, he has actually been pretty quiet and unassuming this year. He'll look to change that in the Cheez-It 355.
Carl Edwards has never won at Watkins Glen, but he has four top-fives and won earlier in the year at Sonoma. Another win would give him three on the season and vault him to the top of the standings.
Among those who have a chance to steal a spot in the Chase are Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger. Both are driving for smaller teams, and they have just one top-five finish combined this season, but they are both in the top 10 in terms of average finishes at Watkins Glen.
Road courses are unpredictable, and there are plenty of variables to consider, but Keselowski's current form and Watkins Glen success make him the best and most obvious choice to win Sunday.
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