Fantasy NASCAR preview: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen
Watkins Glen International is the second and final road course track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The first, Infineon Raceway, is a more technical track and requires more finesse to get around. The straightaways at The Glen allow for more speed and passing zones. This year the track made several improvements to the track that will cut down on the number of caution laps. The gravel traps and grass areas have been replaced with paved runoff areas allowing wayward cars to get back on track far more easily without holding up the action.
Location: Watkins Glen, NY
Drivers to keep an eye on
With Edwards on a season-high streak of four top-10 finishes and Greg Biffle winning last week at Pocono Raceway, it's safe to say that the Roush Fenway revival is on. At The Glen, Edwards has also finished in the top-10 on four consecutive occasions, including a career-best third last year. Most impressive was the fact Edwards rallied from starting 33rd to accomplish the feat. Qualifying was rained out in 2007 and 2008, which gave him better starting positions but Edwards held onto them just fine. He recorded average running positions of eighth and 10th in those starts and spent a combined 91 percent of his laps running in the top-15. With ownership levels that have remained low for weeks, Edwards is a bargain in nearly every format.
In 2007 and 2008, Truex finished sixth and fifth at The Glen, respectively, spending 87 of the 90 laps in each race running in the top-15. However, Truex finished 29th last year due to a late-race hiccup but was running 10th at the halfway point and held an average running position of 14th. At Sonoma earlier this year, Truex appeared to be en route to a career-best top-five finish before he was wrecked by an overly aggressive Jeff Gordon. Truex recently credited Marcos Ambrose for the improving road course program at MWR and is very confident returning to a track he enjoys running at. Coming off his first top-10 since early May, Truex will offer a great value this weekend.
Despite leaving JTG Daugherty Racing at the end of the season, redemption is the only thing on Ambrose's mind this weekend. After stalling out trying to unnecessarily save fuel during a caution lap at Infineon earlier this year, the Australian cost himself his first Cup victory. In his first career Cup start at The Glen, Ambrose came from the rear of the field to finish third. Last year, Ambrose led nine laps but was unable to catch Tony Stewart in the closing laps and finished as the runner-up. Ambrose has won the two Nationwide races at the site and will get the extra seat time this week as well. The Tasmanian has all the ability to make everyone forget about Sonoma and should be universally started.
He may not always have the best equipment but Gordon looked very good at Sonoma back in June. The owner-driver qualified 16th, was running 10th at the midway point and finished as the runner-up. Gordon won at The Glen back in 2003 and had a streak of three straight top-fives from 2005-07. Gordon has employed some very good strategies in the past on road courses; the only question has been the equipment. He struggled the last two years at this site but the strong performance in wine country makes Gordon worth the gamble.
If Said is ever going to get a win in NASCAR's top level this would be the week it happens. At Sonoma, Said took a Bill Jenkins-owned car that had failed to qualify for three races at that point - and was rarely up to speed during the races in which it did make - to finish eighth. At The Glen, Said finished third back in 2005 but has only one top-15 since. With Red Bull locked into the field on owner points, Said won't have to worry about qualifying on time for once and can go all out for the pole in the best Cup car he'll likely ever drive. Red Bull has given him the wings; it's up to Said to fly.
Temper your expectations
With three DNFs due to crashes in the last five starts at The Glen, it's a pretty easy decision to sit Burton this week. He finished 11th and 17th in the two races in which he did see to completion but there's not much reason to risk it. Burton would likely have finished in the top 10 at the Sonoma if not for a desperate Ambrose running into him while scrambling to regain positions in the closing laps. Burton is known as a conservative driver and that can get you into trouble on the often aggressive road courses.
With Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards running so well, it's puzzling that Kenseth, who was the best Roush driver at the start of the season, continues to run in the middle of the pack. In fact, Kenseth has not finished in the top 10 in eight straight starts. Perhaps the combination of getting the car adjusted to the new Ford FR9 engine and getting acquainted from yet another crew chief change in July has the team trying to get caught up. Whatever the case, Kenseth has finished either 12th or 14th in three straight starts at The Glen and will likely remain an unexciting option this weekend.
From 1989 through 2005, Martin had only one non-top-10 finish at The Glen and a streak of three straight wins from the pole in the early '90s. After skipping the event for two years, Martin finished 23rd and never ran higher than 17th in 2009. He's looked better in recent weeks and had a decent run earlier this season at Sonoma but Martin's struggles this season coupled with his time away from The Glen make him a risky option, at best.
In June, Earnhardt tied a career-high with an 11th-place finish at Sonoma despite an average running position of 22nd. Earnhardt has been better at The Glen but not very lucky in recent years. He suffered an engine failure in 2007. The next year he started second, was running fifth mid-race, but finished 22nd with an average running position of 11th after staying out too long and catching the caution. Last year, Earnhardt had brakes issues, ended up in the gravel pit and hit another car to finish 39th. After four straight finishes of 11th or better, Earnhardt has not finished on the lead lap in any of the last three. The odds of Earnhardt making the Chase are in a freefall and so should his ownership in fantasy leagues.
Since 2004, Newman has been unable to take advantage of good starting position at The Glen. Despite starting 16th or better on the grid six times, Newman has only two top-15s to show for it. In 2008, Newman spun out while running third only to get collected in a large wreck on the following restart. Last year it was an alternator issue early and another spinout late. Newman had been good on road courses in the past but the last few years at The Glen have not been kind to him.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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