Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Cheez-It 355

Thursday, August 08, 2013

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 8/12/12, Marcos Ambrose 8/15/11, Juan Pablo Montoya 8/8/10, Tony Stewart 8/10/09 and Kyle Busch 8/10/08.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Todd Bodine 8/9/92, Ron Fellows 8/13/95, Steve Park 8/10/97, Boris Said 8/15/99, Paul Menard 8/10/03, Tony Ave 8/15/04, Patrick Carpentier 8/12/07, Andy Lally 8/10/09, Andrew Ranger 8/15/11 and Patrick Long 8/12/12.
First Cup pole: Todd Bodine 8/10/97.
First Cup win: Marcos Ambrose 8/15/11 and Steve Park 8/13/2000.

August 15, 2011: Marcos Ambrose won the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen. 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 Pole-sitter No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (49 of 92) and finished third.

August 12, 2012: Marcos Ambrose won the Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen. It was the No. 9 Ford driver’s second win in 141 NSCS races. It was his first victory and sixth top-10 finish in 2012. This was also Ambrose’s second consecutive victory and fifth top-10 in five Cup races at WGI. Pole-sitter No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya led one lap, wrecked and was credited with a 33rd place. Drivers leading five or more laps: Race-winner Ambrose led eight laps; No. 2 Brad Keselowski 37 laps, finished second and No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (43 of 90) and finished seventh.

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 20 finish as track favorites Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart, who broke his leg in a sprint car accident this week in Iowa, will miss Sunday’s Cup race. He would have been considered another top favorite at this track. There were 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen in Watkins Glen, New York.

Mid-Pack picks

This is one week we’re going against our own rule of not picking a track favorite. Marcos Ambrose is a no-brainer pick at Watkins Glen. Not only has he won here the last two seasons but his worst results in five Cup starts at the track are a pair of third place finishes. That’s a series best 2.0 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 five straight top ten finishes at the left-coast facility including a seventh this past June. The No. 9 Ford team is using the same chassis from that race this weekend. Ambrose may not pull off the "three-peat" on Sunday, but expect him to maintain his incredible average at The Glen.

Our next pick comes from the six or seven “hired guns” on the entry list. It’s a toss-up between Ron Fellows and Boris Said. Fellows has three wins here in the Nationwide Series,  two in the trucks and two in the K&N Pro Series-East. He only has four top-15s in 14 Cup Series starts at the track. Said, on the other hand, drove in 11 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car races at The Glen, winning three times in the GT class. His numbers in the three top NASCAR series are not as good as Fellows. We’re leaning towards Fellows only because his Circle Sport Racing team seems to be better equiped than Said's Fas Lane racing team. Both drivers are fearless in the turns on road courses. Give Ron Fellows' No. 33 Chevrolet at look for the tail-end of your roster (or flip a coin and maybe go with Said's No. 32 Ford).

This will be Brian Vickers' sixth start this season in the car he shares with team owner Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin. Vickers has a win at Loudon, two top-10 finishes and averaged a 12.8 finish in his previous five starts with the team. In just 13 races in the No. 55 Toyota over the last two years, Vickers owns eight top-11 finishes and an average finish of 13th place. He finished 13th at Sonoma this past June. In the 2012 edition of this race, the engine in Vickers' Toyota expired on the first lap leaving him with a credited 43rd place. His three prior 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 holding on to 16th place in the owner standings. We think Vickers is capable of doing his part this week to keep it there.

For our final pick, we’re looking at AJ Allmendinger. In four Sprint Cup starts at Watkins Glen, his worst finish was a 13th place. In those races, his average running position was a 14.2 and he carries a 9.0 average finish. He's in the JTG Daugherty No. 47 Toyota Camry this week. "When we tested there last week, we had good speed," said Allmendinger. "This is one of my favorite tracks." He also has Sprint Cup finishes of seventh, 13th, 13th and ninth in his last four starts at the Sonoma, California road course. We think he’s a very good pick for a possible road course top-20 or better on Sunday.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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