Can Marcos Ambrose Finally Get That Elusive Sprint Cup Victory?
Like it or not, the Sprint Cup Series drivers will be making left and right hand turns on Sunday, as they are set to make (at least) 90 laps around Watkins Glen International for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen. There will be “road course ringers” in the field on Sunday, and in case you haven’t read my opinion on them, you can by clicking here and going to my Preview from Wednesday. With track position being such an importance at these road course tracks, Kyle Busch got off to a good start Saturday morning by capturing the pole, edging out A.J. Allmendinger by over two tenths of a second. The complete starting lineup for the race–which is set to start around 1:00 pm on Sunday–can be found by clicking here.
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Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen:
1. Marcos Ambrose – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.2 (three wins)
**Change from my preview: +2 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
You really can’t go against a driver that has made three starts at this track and has finished 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd. Surprisingly, though, Marcos has led only 17 laps in those three races at Watkins Glen. However, he’s got a bad-fast Ford this weekend (his lap in Happy Hour was almost half a second faster than anyone else) and I expect that number to skyrocket once the checkered flag waves. Will he finally get a win in the Sprint Cup Series? You have to believe it’s coming soon, and if his team can get this car dialed in during the race, the rest of the field better watch out, and us fans may just see another dominating effort at The Glen.
2. Kyle Busch – Starts 1st – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 11.4 (three wins)
**Change from my preview: +2 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
“Rowdy” Busch absolutely blew the field away in qualifying, and whenever he starts up front, you know there’s a possibility that we will see a dominating effort by the #18 Toyota. The only reason I have him ranked 2nd this weekend is because Kyle didn’t blow me away in Happy Hour (16th on the chart), but I do think that it will come down to either him or Ambrose on Sunday, as long as the rain stays away. Busch won here from the pole in 2008 and is on a streak of five-straight top 10s at Watkins Glen; expect that streak to continue on Sunday, and he may notch another win.
3. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 4th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 9.9 (two wins)
**Change from my preview: +5 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Johnson has been disappointing me at times lately, but with his solid top five starting spot on Sunday, I think he will stay around there for all 90 laps. He has never won at Watkins Glen, but “Five Time” has four top 10s in nine starts at this track and has two poles to his name. He finished 7th at Sonoma in June and wound up 8th on the Happy Hour chart on Friday. This ranking may be a little too high, but it is Jimmie Johnson, and remember: this 48 team hasn’t visited victory lane in a while…. They’re due.
4. Carl Edwards – Starts 8th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.6 (one win)
**Change from my preview: -2 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
You don’t think of Cousin Carl immediately when the series comes to a road course, but he’s actually getting the hang of them (especially this one). Edwards has made six career starts at The Glen and has a solid 8.2 average finish to his name, which includes just one finish outside of the top 10–which was a 19th-place effort in his first start here. He has two-straight top 5s at this track and I fully expect him to make it three-straight once the checkered flag waves on Sunday. Edwards was 3rd-fastest in the Happy Hour practice session.
5. Kurt Busch – Starts 7th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.4
**Change from my preview: -4 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
He’s going to have more cars to pass than I’d like for a 5th-place finish here, but I still think Kurt Busch’s car is very strong and he will end up near the front sooner rather than later on Sunday afternoon. He’s on a streak of three-straight top 10s at Watkins Glen–he finished runner-up last year to Juan Montoya–and he’s the most recent road course winner, as Busch absolutely dominated the Sonoma race in June. He brought the same chassis to The Glen this weekend, and had the fastest lap in Happy Hour of anyone who’s last name isn’t Ambrose.
6. Juan Montoya – Starts 4th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.8
**Change from my preview: +1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
It’s a road course, and this is Juan Pablo Montoya, so you can’t go against the guy. Unless he gets spun out again, a solid top 10 finish should be expected on Sunday. He dominated this race last season and if you take out Montoya’s 39th-place finish in his first start at The Glen (accident), his average finish here would be 3.7. However, with all the drama surrounding this team lately, and the fact that they haven’t been running as well as many think they should (one top 10 in the last seven Sprint Cup races), I actually think that there is a little bit of risk putting Montoya on your roster this weekend, believe it or not.
7. A.J. Allmendinger – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.4 (one win)
**Change from my preview: +3 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Once again, SLEEPER ALERT. I picked The Dinger as my dark horse for the week, and I seriously think he could make it back-to-back top 5s at Watkins Glen once the checkered flag waves on Sunday. With his new teammate, Marcos Ambrose, I think A.J. has further strengthened his road course skills, and that showed on Saturday when he beat the Tasmanian in qualifying. Allmendinger’s average finish in three starts at The Glen is 9.3 and he posted a solid 13th-place finish at Infineon in June after starting 7th. Will we see another surprise winner this weekend? There’s always that chance…
8. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 9th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 9.1
**Change from my preview: +6 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Truex is either going to be hit-or-miss this weekend, as usual, so make sure you remember that before locking in a roster with him on it. However, Martin finished 5th here in 2008, which followed up a 6th-place effort at The Glen in 2007, and he finished the 350-mile race in Sonoma in 8th earlier this year. He has a solid top ten starting position and this team found a lot of speed in this Toyota during Happy Hour, so I think there is a great chance that Truex will improve his 16.4 average finish at this track. As usual with him, though, take all of his speeds and history with a grain of salt, as Martin could end up being junk just as easily as he could end up being a top five car on Sunday.
9. Tony Stewart – Starts 7th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 14.4 (one win)
**Change from my preview: -5 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
This may be one of the lower rankings that you see “Smoke” placed at, but this team isn’t running as well as they should be for this time of year. Yeah, they Stewart is getting the finishes, but it’s not the consistency that I would like to see. Tony spun the #14 Chevrolet two times in first practice (when does that happen?) and couldn’t find any speed in Happy Hour, coming in at 32nd on the speed chart. He hasn’t finished worse than 11th at this track since 2001, though, so it’s hard to go completely against the two-time champ.
10. Jeff Gordon – Starts 17th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 16.1
**Change from my preview: -5 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I’m not sure what to think of Jeff Gordon this weekend. He didn’t impress me much in practice or qualifying, but he has four wins at this track and is on a hot streak in the last two months, with top 11 finishes in each of the last six Sprint Cup races. Gordon finished runner-up to Kurt Busch at Sonoma earlier this year and brought his Chevrolet home in 10th last season at this track after starting 16th. Also, just as a side-note, no other active driver has led more laps at The Glen than Jeff Gordon.
11. Kevin Harvick – Starts 23rd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 17.4
**Change from my preview: -2 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Harvick didn’t qualify very well (this will actually go down as his worst effort), but I still think he has an outside shot at the top ten. He has one win at this track (in 2006) and has recorded six top 11 finishes here in ten career starts. At Infineon earlier this year, “Happy” started 26th and finished 9th, so he and his team should know what it takes to gain track position throughout the race. As I said in my preview, though, if you’re a very superstitious person, I would avoid Harvick this week: in the last two “odd year” races at Watkins Glen (2009 and 2007), he has finished the race in 35th and 36th position.
12. Joey Logano – Starts 13th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 15.5
**Change from my preview: +1 spot. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Like I said in my preview, “Sliced Bread” could get a career-best finish at The Glen on Sunday, and with his 13th-place qualifying effort combined with the 6th-fastest lap in Happy Hour, I’m even more confident saying that today. Logano never finished better than 19th at Sonoma until earlier this year–when he finished 6th after starting from the pole–and he has never finished better than 16th at Watkins Glen. Expect that to change on Sunday, as these Gibbs Toyotas all have a bunch of speed, and Joey has some decent track position to start the race.
13. Ryan Newman – Starts 6th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 16.3
**Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The Stewart-Haas Chevrolets both showed some speed in qualifying, and I think “The Rocketman” will be good for a teens finish on Sunday. He crossed the checkered flag in 12th here last season and he has finished 13th or better in more than half of his nine starts at The Glen. Newman started 5th at Sonoma earlier this season but wound up 25th, and there is some risk that that could happen this weekend as well, but track position is very important at road courses and I’ll take that over blazing fast speed any day.
14. Denny Hamlin – Starts 42nd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 14.1 (one win)
**Change from my preview: -3 spots. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
Denny spun in qualifying, so he will start near the rear of the field on Sunday. That translates to a lot of cars to pass to get to the front, and this isn’t the track where you want that to be the case. What he has going for him, though, is that he was on track for a potential pole run before he spun out, and he has four top 10s in his five career starts at Watkins Glen. Hamlin didn’t impress me much in practice, though, and I really don’t think he’s going to grab another top 10 (especially with how this team’s season is going). A top 15 is possible, though.
15. Brad Keselowski – Starts 12th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
–Average finish of this ranking in 2011 = 13.5 (one win)
**Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: High Risk**
I just don’t know what to think of BK this week. He’s coming off his second win of the season–and they say momentum is huge for these road course races–but he has that broken ankle, and you have to believe that it will hinder his abilities on Sunday. Keselowski looked great in both practices, though, coming in 5th in the first practice and 4th during Happy Hour. He finished 10th at Sonoma in June, and I would have no problem ranking him there this week if it wasn’t for that ankle, but I just think the constant action during the 90 laps of the race will give Brad a finish worse than what he deserves.
Stay Away From These Drivers For The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – During practice on Friday, the SPEED announcers said that Junior finally “stopped the bleeding” with his top 10 at Pocono last weekend. Expect the wound to open back up on Sunday. Earnhardt, Jr. hasn’t finished better than 22nd in the last four Watkins Glen race, and while he ranked 11th in the first practice session on Sunday, the #88 Chevrolet was just 33rd-fastest in Happy Hour.
David Ragan – It’s possible that Ragan could post a career-best finish here on Sunday, but that’s not saying much because currently that CB is 24th. David has never had a driver rating better than 48.6 in a Watkins Glen race and this #6 Ford was terrible in practice: ranking 24th in the first session and 37th in Happy Hour. He has surprised people a lot this year, but I just don’t see that happening this Sunday. Ragan finished 29th at Sonoma in June.
David Reutimann – Reutty has been getting progressively better at this track over the years (33rd, 25th, and 23rd) but I think he’s too inconsistent for anyone to take a chance on him this weekend. These road courses are nowhere near his favorite tracks and his #00 Toyota didn’t show me anything in practice. Expect a mid-20′s finish out of Reutimann, which is where he finished at Sonoma as well.