A trip to the Watkins Glen International in upstate New York means the return of right-handed turns.
The track will play host to the second and final road course race of the 2010 season as 43 of NASCAR’s best get ready for the ultimate battle of the road. The 11-turn course has crown victories in those such as Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to aces such as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.
Both Stewart and Gordon are still winless this season and a trip to the road course could bring an end to their droughts. Stewart is the defending winner of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. Gordon, a four-time winner at the track, is looking to seal the deal after coming oh so close yet again last weekend.
In winning the 2009 event, Stewart held off Australian Marcos Ambrose, who heads to the Glen with redemption on his mind. Ambrose was just eight laps away from winning his first career Sprint Cup Series race in June at Sonoma before making a driver error. On a late caution he made the decision to shut the car off, after being instructed to save fuel, and when he went to re-fire the car seven drivers passed him before it finally cranked up.
Jimmie Johnson went on to win his first road course victory, and now he comes to Watkins Glen looking to cross another course off his list. The defending four-time champion has won at all but four tracks: Michigan, Chicagoland, Watkins Glen, and Homestead-Miami.
Each of those drivers will be expected to be apart of the mix come Sunday, or at least for Johnson, that would be if Kurt Busch doesn’t have anything to say about it. Last weekend in Pocono Johnson again got into Busch and left Busch with a torn up race car. One would only think that eventually Busch would be looking to even the score.
Score as Greg Biffle finally did for the first time since 2008 when he took the checkered flag in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. It’s a bright spot for Roush-Fenway Racing who has been in an uphill battle since the season began. Only time will tell if the victory will lead to bigger and better things for the company.
And then there were our Creatures who have been accustomed to victory lane this season. As the Chase approaches they are doing all they can to snatch up the bonus points for when they will be reseeded, and here is who they believe will help them accomplish the feat in Watkins Glen.
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
Is it me or do you smell a big win by Tony Stewart coming? He won the pole and finished second at Pocono and now at Watkins Glen in 11 races Smoke has five wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s, and an average finish of fifth. He has also led 225 laps there, which is second to Jeff Gordon 227 laps led who has six more starts than him. Since 2002, he has just one finish outside the top two there and since 2004 he has either won or finished second at Watkins Glen. Question is will he win on Sunday? I say yes.
Kyle Brandt: Tony Stewart
He's won five races at the Glen since his rookie year in 1999.
James Broomhead: Marcos Ambrose
I've picked Kangaroo Meat for every road race in the two years of this competition and eventually the stars might align so he might actually win.
The Glen is arguably a better track for Ambrose than Sonoma and with his contract at JTG over finally clinching a win (especially after the farce in California) will do his longer-term future no harm at all.
Kelly Crandall: Marcos Ambrose
While Stewart will be the popular pick, I’m going to go a different route than the majority. I was one of the few who picked Ambrose in Sonoma and he almost rewarded me with a win. And after finishing second here a year ago, it’s clear that he will a factor on Sunday. I just hope that I won’t be looking at another chance of victory slipping away.
Billy Fellin: Tony Stewart
Since 2004, Stewart has either finished first or second at Watkins Glen. No brainer here.
Christopher Leone: Tony Stewart
History (and a 5.3 average finish) suggests 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.
Kara Martin: Tony Stewart
As I said a couple of weeks ago, if I keep picking him, eventually he will win!
Dustin Parks: Tony Stewart
I was trying to pick between three of the top road racers today. It came down to Smoke because in recent years, he's been the best at this track. I still believe had Gordon not wheel hopped in 2007, Stewart would've finished second. But, he's won two of the last three years. With momentum on his side right now at the Glen, I just can't bet against him.
Patti Rodisch: Kyle Busch
Everyone will pick Tony Stewart because he is the favorite of course. He has down right owned WGI in his career, so why not go with the favorite? Here’s why. They don’t always win and at a road course where pit strategy can take the dominating car and put them in traffic, sometimes it’s the most unlikely of people who win.
Kyle Busch and his team have not performed at their best in the last month or so. This is the perfect chance for them to gain some momentum and bonus points for the Chase. He has been solid at WGI with one win in 2008, two top fives and four top 10s. Busch needs a good, solid bounce back race this weekend and win would be even better. Expect Busch to contend on Sunday afternoon.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Tony Stewart
Its that time of the year when Stewart begins to make his presence felt. In the past eight weeks, he has five top fives and seven top 10 finishes. In the past eight years, Stewart has five wins, along with two finishes of second place at the Glen, which makes him my choice to get into victory lane.
Rob Tiongson: Tony Stewart
With Greg Biffle snapping a long winless streak, you just know that drivers like Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Tony Stewart are looking to duplicate the Roush-Fenway racer's success at Pocono last weekend with a trip to Victory Lane at the Glen.
Until Gordon and company can close out races, the guy to pick for this Sunday's race at this winding road course is Smoke. Until he somehow forgets how to drive at this type of track, he'll be the one to beat.
Alan Wade: Tony Stewart
Stewart has dominated at the Glen, with five wins in 11 starts and an average finishing position of 5.3. Smoke is coming off a good run at Pocono and I think he and (crew chief) Darien Grubb have this road course in their sights for the 14 team's first win of 2010.
Kara Martin (2,972) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (2)
Billy Fellin (2,920) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (3)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2,825) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (2)
Christopher Leone (2,818) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (3)
Dustin Parks (2,722) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (2)
James Broomhead (2,713 ) Denny Hamlin finished fifth )
Rob Tiongson (2,702) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (0)
Kelly Crandall (2,656) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (2)
Misan Akuya (2,627) Tony Stewart finished second (1)
Patti Rodisch (2,411) Denny Hamlin finished fifth (0)
Alan Wade (1,118) Tony Stewart finished second (1)
Kyle Brandt (421) Greg Biffle won (1)
While road course races can be as unpredictable as restrictor plate races, there will be certain drivers that are up near the front. The question becomes, which driver has enough to keep it on the pavement and pull into victory lane? Or will someone else like Jimmie Johnson be the king of the road on Sunday?
Summary of Picks
Tony Stewart - 9
Marcos Ambrose - 2
Kyle Busch - 1