Marcos Ambrose looks to revisit the site of his first Sprint Cup win, Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. [Chris Graythen/Getty Images]
Mash The Gas - Watkins Glen Preview
by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann
It's back to a road course for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as the drivers tackle the historic circuit at Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355. A return to the twisting track means the drivers who excel in their road racing skills should be considered the favorites heading into this weekend.
Dan Margetta: Ambrose is clearly the best road racing driver on the circuit and comes into this event at the Glen as a heavy favorite, having scored the victory here last season. Add in his four top five finishes here and it's clear Ambrose fits the Watkins Glen circuit perfectly and he is the driver to beat this weekend.
John Wiedemann: Having finished no worse than third in four races at Watkins Glen puts Ambrose at the top of the list for this weekend's race. The former V8 SuperCar racer has made the New York track his home and is looking to match last year's win in this event. Ambrose has been hanging out in the front of the pack the past couple years and will again this weekend.
Juan Pablo Montoya
JW: The problems of last year have not disappeared this year for the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, though they are faring a little better recently. But, Juan Montoya must be looking forward to this weekend's race where the driver can overcome some difficulties that the team may be having. Montoya provided some excitement to the Grand-Am road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and will do the same this weekend at Watkins Glen.
DM: Montoya finally made some positive news last week with a pole position win at Pocono. While he finished 20th on Sunday, Montoya has the right aggressive road racing driving style to find success at Watkins Glen. With absolutely nothing to lose this weekend and sporting the third best driver rating at The Glen, Montoya should part of the story in one form or another.
DM: Gordon finally had luck work his way when he was in the right spot at the right time when the rains came last weekend at Pocono to score his first win of the season. The victory put Gordon into the second wildcard entry spot in The Chase via a tie-breaker with Ryan Newman, and his four wins at The Glen are proof he's no slouch when it comes to turning right. The team should build on its Pocono momentum and a second trip to victory lane in as many weeks is not out of the question.
JW: While the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization is on a roll and Gordon won last week, he hasn't shown his Road King status in quite a while. Gordon won four times in nineteen starts at Watkins Glen with victories coming in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Since that last win he only has two top ten finishes in ten races at the track. However, Gordon certainly hasn't forgotten how to drive on a road course and with the speed that the Hendrick teams have been showing, he should be a contender on Sunday.
DM: The pressure is on for Kyle Busch to secure a second victory on the season as he saw his hold on the second Chase Wildcard position slip away last weekend. It's now "Go-Time" for this team and Busch is definitely aggressive enough to drive to the front. The trick will be to not let that aggressiveness hurt the team via pit road penalties and off-track excursions.
JW: Kyle Busch has six straight top ten finishes at Watkins Glen, but he probably needs better than a top ten to keep pace with the Wild Card race. Since a streak of four top four finishes following his win at Richmond, Busch has had finishes all over the map in the last ten races ranging from a second place two weeks ago at Indy to a thirty-third place finish last week at Pocono. Last weeks issues dropped him out of the Wild Card spot, but Busch has won at each of the next five venues on the schedule, so he is far from out of the race to the Chase.
DM: Tony Stewart, the hammer-down dirt track racer, a favorite on a road course? Absolutely! Stewart sports the series best driver rating at Watkins Glen and owns five wins and seven top five finishes. If he finds himself out front late in the event, it will be a tall task for anyone to work their way around him as he's one of the toughest around to pass when the chips are down.
Long Shot Pick:
DM: Most people overlook Paul Menard as an accomplished road racer but he has been known to excel on the left and right turn circuits. He's listed at 60-1 odds on the Las Vegas Sports Books and he definitely has the road racing skills to pull off a surprise win. His record at Watkins Glen is rather dismal statistically but his road racing background is extensive and he may worth taking a flyer on.
JW: With a fifth place finish in last year's event and a tenth place finish at the other road race on the schedule at Sonoma in June, Joey Logano definitely has a shot at victory lane this weekend. A win by Logano would shake up the Wild Card race which looks to be in flux for the rest of the regular season.
Wild Card Watch
Following Indianapolis the Wild Card standings are:
Kasey Kahne, 2 wins, 622 points
Jeff Gordon, 1 win, 611 pts
Ryan Newman, 1 win, 611 pts
Kyle Busch, 1 win, 599 pts
Joey Logano, 1 win, 575 pts
Carl Edwards, 0 wins, 619 pts
Paul Menard, 0 wins, 597 pts
Marcos Ambrose, 0 wins, 553 pts
Jamie McMurray, 0 wins, 536 pts
Jeff Burton, 0 wins, 527 pts
Jeff Gordon leaps over four drivers with his won at Pocono to take the final Wild Card spot away from Kyle Busch. It's a points race with Gordon, Ryan Newman and Busch separated by only twelve points.
Five more wins are available in the regular season and the Wild Card standings are sure to change as the schedule counts down.