|Look for Tony Stewart to get his sixth win at Watkins Glen Sunday (Getty)
Jeff Gordon halted a 31-race winless streak by winning the rain shortened Pocono race last week for his 86th career win. The win pushed Gordon into a tie for the 12th and final Chase position with five races to go by virtue of having the most points among drivers with one win. If the Chase were to begin today, Gordon would advance over Newman due to having one more top-5 finish on the year than Newman.
Despite Gordon’s 2012 bad luck giving the impression he would have no shot at making the Chase just a few weeks ago, the crew over at the LVH Super Book have stayed steady with Gordon on his Championship odds at 15-to-1. Gordon’s car has never been in doubt all season, which is why despite not winning the last 31 races, he was still respected enough to never have opening odds offered at higher than 12-to-1 during any race.
To give an example of how respectfully low that number was before Gordon finally won, consider that Newman was 100-to-1 to win the title.
“(The Pocono win) only puts more pressure on us over these next several weeks, but we’re ready for the challenge," Gordon said earlier this week. "With all we’ve been through this year and this team staying together while not pointing fingers, we knew if we could get to Victory Lane it would make us stronger. We’ve put together a string of good runs and finishes, but we have to keep fighting for wins. I don’t know if one win will be good enough to secure a wildcard spot."
Following the Pocono win, the LVH now has Gordon listed at 10-to-1 odds to win the Championship.
The two other drivers still hoping for a shot at the Chase that have a win on the season are Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Each are falling fast of late, but could pass both Newman and Gordon with a win within these next five races.
The five tracks all these hungry drivers will have to battle and have their fate ultimately decided by begins on the road course of Watkins Glen this week. They’ll then visit the 2-mile oval at Michigan, the half-mile short track at Bristol, the 1.5-mile high banked track at Atlanta and the three-quarter-mile flat track of Richmond.
That is about as diverse as a schedule can get over five race stretch and will take a driver just as diverse to get the job done. Between having the Hendrick Motorsports advantage and also having a very diverse background on all tracks, Gordon is right back in the mix of things. We could possibly see all four Hendrick cars in the 12-car Chase for the Championship, something we all thought -- except for the LVH -- was virtually impossible.
Gordon can quickly take care of business this week by winning at Watkins Glen, a track he’s won at four times, but none since 2001. Gordon also has five wins on the road course of Sonoma, but none there since 2006. He’s still been competitive on the road courses, finishing sixth at Sonoma in late June, but the competition is much better than it used to be in the past.
“We’ve not run very well at Watkins Glen in recent years and it’s been very disappointing to me and the team," Gordon said, "but I’m optimistic because I felt we made big improvements at Sonoma. We tested at Road Atlanta before that race, and I think it’s a better track for Watkins Glen than it is for Sonoma. But we won’t really know until we get on the track. I always love the road courses and Watkins Glen is always one of my favorites. It’s a fast road course and you’ve got to have grip and comfort in that car through the esses and the high speed corners. You’ve got to attack the race track in the braking zones, and the car has got to be there for you and stick. Recently, though, I just feel like we’ve been missing a little something here.”
Taking over the road course crown from Gordon was Tony Stewart, who has five Watkins Glen wins since Gordon won his last.
“When you’ve won five races, it gives you that confidence that you know how to win, and know what you have to do to get to victory lane," Stewart said. "I know what feel I need when we get here. It’s just a matter of going out and practicing and putting yourself in that position.”
Juan Pablo Montoya has captured a couple road wins and Marcos Ambrose won at the Glen last year. For Ambrose, he has an impossible, but true, average finish of 2.3 in four starts.
Even though the drivers make both right and left turns at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the two tracks are about as different as New Hampshire and Homestead are compared to each other. Sonoma is the technical course with elevation changes where the driver is the key component. A Sonoma lap is about 30 mph slower than Watkins Glen, a track that allows for the car to be more relative.
Look for the regulars to be hunting for another win with the Michael Waltrip drivers having a shot as well. Clint Bowyer won at Sonoma in June and Martin Truex Jr has always fared well at Watkins Glen. Brian Vickers will be driving the No. 55 MWR entry. Vickers finished fourth at Sonoma and will be using the same car again this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
2) #9 Marcos Ambrose (9/2)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (6/1)
4) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (10/1)
5) #33 Clint Bowyer (20/1)