|Road course racing in New York is always fun|
Ambrose won at Watkins Glen in back-to-back seasons, 2011 and 2012, and prior to that, he finished third or better in his first three starts on the track. He stumbled to a 31st-place finish last season, but in actuality, he dominated the race. He led 51 of the first 61 laps, until being shuffled back during an inopportune caution, where he started 12th and then got caught up in a wreck with five laps remaining. So don't for a second believe he's trending downward. In six Cup starts, even with last season’s poor finish, he has an amazing 6.8 average finish at the Glen, second best in the series.
The top average finish goes to Brad Keselowski, who, in four starts, has a 6.5 average. Since finishing 20th at the Glen in 2010, his first start at the track, he’s posted three straight seconds – twice to Ambrose and last season to Kyle Busch. The LVH has Keselowski listed as co-second choice to win Sunday, along with Busch, at 7-to-1. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Keselowski and Ambrose finish 1-2 again, in no particular order, making it a good quinella bet (if it was offered).
Kevin Harvick, with his 13.1 career average finish at the Glen, is listed next at 8-to-1. Harvick won this race in 2006, but hasn’t had a top-five there since.
The next tier of candidates come in at 10-to-1, and for one of them – Jeff Gordon – those odds might be the highest offered on him on a road course since his rookie season. Even though Gordon’s nine road course wins between Watkins Glen and Sonoma are the most in NASCAR history, he’s been very average over his last 12 races at the Glen since his last win there in 2001. Over those last 12 races, he doesn’t have a single top-five finish, which is kind of shock since he’s been stellar during the same time frame at Sonoma.
Of course, Sonoma and Watkins Glen are completely different tracks – Sonoma is the more technical of the two, and Watkins Glen is much faster. Jamie McMurray won the pole at Sonoma in June with a record speed of 96 mph. Last season, Ambrose won the Glen pole at 128 mph.
During Gordon’s years of road course mastery from 1997-2006, you’d be lucky to find odds on him higher than 3-to-1. In today’s NASCAR world, there are several drivers capable of winning on the roads, and while a few still don’t like making right turns, there are plenty more who see this as an opportunity to use their skills as an advantage over big horsepower teams against whom they have virtually no chance on the 1.5-mile tracks. Ambrose fits that profile, as well as A.J. Allmendinger, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola.
Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer are also listed at 10-to-1. This is one of four tracks Johnson has yet to win at, but he has a very respectable 12.8 average finish, coming in third-place twice. Bowyer has been much better over his career at Sonoma, but finished a career-best fourth at the Glen in 2012 and was sixth there last season.
The one driver who gave Gordon some trouble on the road courses over his incredible reign was Tony Stewart. They had some epic battles on the roads, as a young and brash Stewart wasn’t about to bullied. Smoke slowly became better and more consistent than Gordon at Watkins Glen, winning at this track a record five times, most recently in 2009. An injured Stewart missed the race last season and was 27th and 19th in the two previous years, which is why he’s getting 12-to-1 odds this week, probably the highest number for Stewart on a road course since his rookie season.
While Ambrose and Keselowski are both going to be tough to beat, the best value on the board might be Carl Edwards at 25-to-1. He’s never won at Watkins Glen, but did grab the first road course win of his career in June at Sonoma. In nine Watkins Glen starts, he has an 8.8 average finish, including fourth-place last season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr comes in at 60-to-1 odds, which may look attractive for a driver who is running at the highest level of his entire career, but there’s a good reason for the high odds. He’s just not very good when having to turn right. His best finish was third-place in 2003, and the following year he was fifth, but he hasn’t finished better than 10th in any race since then and his overall average finish is 23.2. But hey, who knows – he never won at Pocono before this season and now he’s won there twice.
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