This week the Sprint Cup Series ends its 2010 road course sojourn with a trip to western New York and Watkins Glen International. Home of fine wines and fast cars, the track hosts this weekend's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen.
I attended the IZOD IndyCar Series race at the Glen earlier this year, and let me say that any traveling race fan that hasn't experienced a weekend at the track doesn't know what they're missing.
Watkins Glen is a quaint little town with all the amenities and brand names one could ask for, and the track provides fans with many prime spots from which to watch a race. And if you were impressed by the show that IndyCar put on, just imagine multiplying the crowds and fanfare by a significant number, and you have an American race fan's dream.
So who's going to take the checkers this weekend?
History (and a 5.3 average finish) suggest that Tony Stewart is the man to beat this weekend. Stewart has an incredible five wins in 11 Glen starts, and nine top-10s. Of his two worse finishes, one was an 11th place. He's never failed to complete a lap there, much less accrue a DNF, making him the undisputed king of the track.
I'm not sure if you can call Marcos Ambrose a total dark horse at the Glen, seeing as his average finish is 2.5, but he's never sealed the deal in a Cup race, and a killer mistake at Infineon robbed him of what should have been much closer to a victory, suggesting that he and his team still have a little way to go to pull it off.
Ambrose has taken the checkers in Nationwide races at the Glen, though, and it will be interesting to see if his apparent mastery of the track will offset any doldrums that come with being a lame-duck driver on a mid-pack team with bad luck thus far.
Three more, because tradition says so.
Mark Martin's got three Glen wins in 20 starts and hasn't failed to complete a lap there since 1986 (excluding the 2007 and 2008 races, which he skipped). The wins came during an incredible three-year stretch from 1993 to 1995, where he won the pole and led 183 of a possible 270 laps.
There are just as many knocks on him, though. First of all, this has been a tough year for the team; second, he hasn't led a lap at the Glen in his past seven starts; finally, his last two Glen finishes have been 20th and 23rd, respectively. Pick carefully.
Robby Gordon is always a threat at the Glen, having scored seven top five finishes in 11 starts and a win in 2003. Normally the only knock against Gordon is failed alternate pit strategy that doesn't work out in the end. Fans can always count on the independent to put on a good show, especially with the added data from a second P.J. Jones-piloted car each time the series turns both ways.
Finally, A.J. Allmendinger is a decent pick that can be expected to exceed his previous finishes at the Glen—11th and 13th in two career starts. The ex-Champ Car star's future is now set at Richard Petty Motorsports, with a multi-year contract extension in place.
That and the confidence that comes with being the team's new number one driver should allow him to open up a little this weekend and show off the road course talent that convinced Red Bull to bring him to stock cars in the first place a few years ago.