by Micah Roberts
This weeks race heads to Northern New York at Watkins Glen for the second and final road race of the season. At Sonoma in June, Kasey Kahne won his first ever road race on the technical course full of elevation changes. This week won’t be as difficult as the race at Sonoma. Most of the drivers on tour don’t like road racing that much, but Watkins Glen is the easiest of the two courses to drive.
Before Kahne had won at Sonoma, all the road course races had been dominated by a select few. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon had won the majority of all road races over the last decade. Kahne’s win on at Sonoma, coupled by Kyle Busch’s sweep of the road course season last year give hope to several of the long shot candidates this week.
Kahne came in as a nice 30 to 1 choice at Sonoma, so the question is, do we have a shot at winning in the same fashion this week. The candidates are slim, but yes, there is a chance of seeing someone winning that pays good odds, especially at the easier of the two courses.
The best shot of winning a road race from someone that has yet to win on one comes from Marcos Ambrose, a driver that hasn’t won a race on any type of track. Despite his lack of wins, Ambrose comes in as a 10 to 1 choice because the bookmakers have seen that Ambrose is a serious contender to win. In his last two road course races, Ambrose has finished third in each.
Jimmie Johnson usually has odds of 5 or 6 to 1 for all of his races, however, on the road courses,
Johnson is given nice odds of 20 to 1 or higher because he’s not known for his road course skills. Of the two road courses, Watkins Glen presents the best opportunity for Johnson to win because it isn’t so technical and has lots of long straightaways. Johnson is getting better on the courses each and every time he races on them. At Sonoma this year, Johnson finished fourth.
Tony Stewart comes in as the favorite this week, not only on the basis of his four Watkins Glen wins, but the fact that he‘s finished second in his last two road course races. He is just so smooth in and out of every turn maximizing his speed at every opportunity when others get too cautious around the unfamiliar right turns.
Kyle Busch won this race last season and if there is any time for him to step up it’s this week with only five races left in the race to the chase. Busch has the tenacity required to win a road race and with his chips down, he may go all-in this week. Look for Busch to let it all hang out and go for the win.
Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at Watkins Glen since 2001, but has four career wins on the track. He leads all NASCAR drivers with nine career road course wins over his career. He has said over the last few years that the team isn’t putting as much emphasis on their road cars just because it only represents two races a year. Whether he’s saying that just because he hasn’t won for some time, or that his car really is inferior, can only be speculated upon, but Gordon’s skills merit him enough to still be considered a top candidate to win. Unlike most seasons though, Gordon’s odds are in the 8 to 1 range. In the past Gordon had been as low as under 2 to 1 to win any road course race.
Juan Pablo Montoya may be the hottest driver on tour right now. He’s finished in the top-10 in three of the last four races and he’s now going to a facility that is plenty to his liking. Montoya finished fourth in this race last season and has his only Cup win on the road course at Sonoma.
TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (4/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (20/1)
4) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (10/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)