Track history: Watkins Glen International hosts one of the two road course races on the Sprint Cup schedule. The Glen has had an on-again off-again history of racing. In 1957, Buck Baker put his No. 87 Chevrolet on the pole, led all 44 laps to win the first NASCAR race. It wasn't until 1964 that NASCAR returned for two years and then again dropped the track from its schedule. After the track went into disrepair it was purchased by Corning Enterprises and International Speedway Corporation. They restored the facility and reopened it in 1984. On August 9, 1986, Tim Richmond drove the No. 25 Chevrolet from the pole to the checkered flag in NASCAR's return to The Glen.
The 2.45 mile track has 11 turns with varying lengths and banking ranging from 6 to 10 degrees. The Glen is different from Sonoma in California (the other Sprint Cup road course) in that the straightaways are longer. Drivers who can brake well going into the tight turns and can run smooth laps will have an advantage over the rest of the field. Some teams hire road course specialists in one-race deals to replace their drivers for these events. The “hired guns” have prior experience at WGI, Sonoma, sports car venues and even open-wheel road courses. The Cup regulars have improved their “non-oval” driving over the past few years and are giving the specialists a run for their money.
Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Marcos Ambrose 08/15/11, Juan Pablo Montoya 08/08/10, Tony Stewart 08/10/09, Kyle Busch 08/10/08 and Tony Stewart 08/12/07.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Todd Bodine 08/09/92, Ron Fellows 08/13/95, Steve Park 08/10/97, Boris Said 08/15/99, Paul Menard 08/10/03, Tony Ave 08/15/04, Patrick Carpentier 08/12/07, Andy Lally 08/10/09 and Andrew Ranger 08/15/11.
First Cup pole: Todd Bodine 08/10/97.
First Cup win: Marcos Ambrose 08/15/11 and Steve Park 08/13/2000.
August 8, 2010: Juan Pablo Montoya won the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen from a third place start. It was the No. 42 Chevrolet driver's first win and ninth top-10 finish in 2010. No. 99 Carl Edwards won the pole, lost the lead (to Jamie McMurray) before the end of first lap and finished fifth (led 0 laps). Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 1 Jamie McMurray (five laps, finished sixth), No. 47 Marcos Ambrose (eight laps, finished third) and winner Montoya led the most laps (74).
August 15, 2011: Marcos Ambrose won the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen from a third place start. It was the No. 9 Ford driver’s first win in 105 NSCS races. It was his seventh top-10 finish in 2011 and fourth top-10 in four races at WGI. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 24 Jeff Gordon (six laps, finished 13th), No. 43 AJ Allmendinger (eight laps, finished eighth), race-winner Ambrose led 21 laps and No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (49 of 92) and finished third.
Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. There were 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen in Watkins Glen, New York.
This week we’re going against our own rule of not picking a track favorite. Marcos Ambrose is a ‘gotta have’ at Watkins Glen. Not only is he the defending winner of this race, his worst results in four Cup starts here are a pair of third place finishes. That’s a series best 2.2 average finish. Ambrose also won three straight Nationwide Series starts here (2008-2010). He won the 2010 race from the pole after leading 60 of the 82 laps. He handled himself well at the Sonoma Sprint Cup road course. He has four straight top ten finishes at the left-coast facility including an eighth from the pole this past June. The No. 9 team is using the same chassis from that race this weekend.
Another easy choice from drivers outside the top-15 in championship points for a mid-pack pick is Juan Pablo Montoya. He is 21st in the points but is a no-brainer pick at Watkins Glen International. In his first start here in 2007, he was running 6th, got hit from behind with less than 20 laps to go and finished 39th. He returned with determination and scored finishes of fourth, sixth, a win in 2010 and seventh in the 2011 event. Like Ambrose, he also runs well at other road courses. He has four top-ten’s in six starts at Sonoma, including a win in 2007. In his one start in the Nationwide Series race at the Mexico City road course, he started third, led the most laps and won the event. Back here in the Cup Series, Montoya scored more driver points in the last two starts a WGI than any other driver. The No. 42 team is bringing the same chassis that Montoya won with here in 2010.
Michael Waltrip Racing considers Brian Vickers a “key to its 2012 success”. This will be his fifth start in the No. 55 he shares with team owner Waltrip and Mark Martin. Vickers has two top-five finishes, has completed every lap in his four starts and finished no worse than 18th. His best finish this season was a fourth at Sonoma and the team is bringing that same car to WGI. His last three Cup trips to the Finger Lakes region track resulted in an 18th, an 11th and another 18th in 2011. Even with three different drivers, the No. 55 is currently 13th in the owner’s points and we think Vickers is capable of doing his part this week to keep it there.
We’re going deep with Kurt Busch this weekend at a track where he has an excellent record for his three Nationwide Series races. He started on the pole for each of those three events, winning two and finishing third in the other. In a Cup car, his record isn’t as spectacular. He wrecked at WGI in 2011 (credited with a 38th). Prior to that finish, though, he had four top-11 finishes including a runner-up in 2010. Busch ran a truck around the 2.45 mile track in 2000 and finished second in that race as well. Like several others, the Phoenix Racing team is bringing the Sonoma car to The Glen this week. Busch finished third in that car this past June. The No. 51 driver should be considered for a fourth or fifth driver this week on your fantasy roster.