Mash The Gas: Cheez-It 355 Watkins Glen Preview

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series turns right for the final time in 2013, as the circuit heads to the famed road course at Watkins Glen International for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. Watkins Glen hosts the second of the two road course events on the schedule and although the track features left and right hand turns, it also carries with it a lot of speed and it’s a place where driver’s road racing skills can shine.

1:19 pm EDT is the scheduled time for the green flag to fly starting the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. The 90 laps make up 220.5 miles at the @.45 mile Watkins Glen International road course. Including this race, five remain as drivers try to get themselves included in the final ten race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Certain drivers have the finesse necessary to run fast at the Glen and the following are ones to watch on Sunday.

Marcos Ambrose
Dan Margetta: Marcos Ambrose is most likely considered the top road racer on the tour and should be considered the favorite entering Sunday’s race. He owns two wins at the Glen to go along with his five top five finishes and his averaging finishing position of 2 is the best among active drivers. With Tony Stewart on the sidelines, Ambrose also owns the best driver rating and after failing to score the win at the first road course event at Sonoma, Ambrose and the #9 team look to Watkins Glen as their best shot for a victory to jump start a late season run.

Kurt Busch
John Wiedemann: Maybe if I keep picking Kurt Busch every week, I’ll be right one of these times. Honestly, this week is as good as any for Kurt to pick up an all important victory. The proof is there from this year’s Sonoma road course race where Kurt recovered from a lap down and charged through the field to finish fourth passing 21 cars over the final 25 laps. The problem was two pit road speeding penalties put him that lap down, and that has been the story of the season – problems pop up in almost every race. Putting everything together this weekend is the key to finding victory lane and setting up the Furniture Row team, currently 11 points out of 10th, for making the Chase.

Kyle Busch
DM: If any track and race owes Kyle Busch, it is this one as last year Busch led at the white flag and then slipped in some oil and lost the race in a thrilling finish to Marcos Ambrose. That oil slick proved to be even more profound when Busch missed The Chase cut at Richmond as a victory here last year would have been enough to get him to the dance. Drivers don’t forget races they should have won and watch for Kyle Busch to be on a mission Sunday to collect his second career Watkins Glen victory.

Brad Keselowski
JW: Tony Stewart’s mishap has opened the door to the Chase for many drivers. Brad Keselowski is first in line to take advantage. Leading the points for drivers in the eleventh through twentieth place without a win, Keselowski is first in line for a Wild Card if Stewart drops out of the top twenty. Also, a win puts Keselowski in the top Wild Card position and more likely moves him back into the top ten, he is currently only seven points behind Greg Biffle in tenth. Keselowski led thirty-seven laps at Watkins Glen last year and should be in contention again this weekend.

Max Papis
DM: After testing for Stewart-Haas Racing at Road Atlanta, Max Papis gets the last minute call to sub for Tony Stewart in the #14 car at The Glen after Stewart suffered a broken leg in a sprint car crash Monday night. A road course “specialist”, Papis will have the best equipment he has ever had in his limited Sprint Cup career and he knows this is his moment in the spotlight. His best NASCAR finish here was 8th in the Sprint Cup race back in 2009 and has enjoyed strong road racing runs in the Nationwide Series at Road America and Montreal. “Mad Max” and the #14 team should also have an extra incentive this week to “win one for Tony” and they should be contenders on Sunday.

Greg Biffle
JW: Greg Biffle isn’t normally known as a road racer, although he did finish sixth at this race last year and eighth at the Sonoma Raceway earlier this year. Biffle is on the bubble, tenth in the standings with 599 points, in a very tight grouping between Kasey Kahne in eighth (612 points) and Martin Truex Jr. in fourteenth (584 points). With his win at Michigan, Biffle is still safe to grab a Wild Card for the Chase for now but it still is an uncomfortable position for the Roush Fenway Racing driver. A solid finish this weekend and next weekend’s race at Michigan will help to ease the discomfort.

A.J. Allmendinger
DM: My long shot pick for Watkins Glen this week is A.J. Allmendinger who will be piloting the #47 Toyota this week for JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger is an accomplished road racer and he scored an impressive Nationwide Series win at Road America earlier this season. In four Watkins Glen events, Allmendinger’s finishes have been 11th, 13th, 4th, and 8th so he knows how to get around the famed road course. Also, the team is familiar with road racing set-ups as Marcos Ambrose had success behind the wheel of the #47 in years past. They may not be considered a power house team on the circuit but the combination of Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty may be one to watch on Sunday.

Road Race Ringers
JW: Ron Fellows heads the list of Road Race Ringers this weekend. Ringers haven’t always had great luck racing in the Sprint Cup Series and the reasoning is that they are normally running for teams or in rides that don’t race week in and week out in the series. Also, while these drivers normally wheel purposely built sports cars around the track, racing a stock car is another story. The final reason is that the top road race drivers have been hired to train the full-time Cup drivers and they have produced pretty good students. With all that being said, watch Ron Fellows this weekend in the #33 Chevrolet. Fellows knows how to get around Watkins Glen better than anyone and could put on a clinic of the tricks he has kept to himself. Fellows battling upfront with Papis, Ambrose and Kurt Busch – that would be fun to see.

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