This week’s race: Cheez-it 355k at the Glen
Traditional Name: Finger Lakes 355k at the Glen
Other Notable Names: The Bud at the Glen, Sirius at the Glen, Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen
The Cheez-it 355k at the Glen is the second of two road course races on NASCAR’s Cup schedule and this year it could have more significance than ever. With NASCAR’s new rules about qualifying for the Chase, drivers one might not normally consider favorites to make the playoffs have a better than average chance of getting their names mentioned at Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Dover International Speedway—the first three races before the field resets to 12 drivers.
In some ways, handicapping a race on a road course is simple. There are several drivers with outstanding records on this track type who should headline most rosters and since they are the ones conventionally accepted to run well, if they stumble it generally affects everyone. Equally important, these are drivers like Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger, and Clint Bowyer who are not always the most popular drivers in the field so they are unaffected in allocation management games.
The difficulty comes in finding good, but not always great drivers who consistently finish in the mid- to high-teens. Drivers like Martin Truex Jr. or Casey Mears come to mind.
This week, fantasy players will also want to pay attention to Friday’s practice. Road courses are rhythm tracks and learning how to get through the fast turns at Watkins Glen begins the moment the cars hit the track.
10 best drivers at Watkins Glen
Over the past three races, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Brad Keselowski
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 2.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 6.5 in 4 starts
Keselowski must be getting a little frustrated with finishing second at the Glen. He came up short of Marcos Ambrose’s efforts in 2011 and 2012, and then could not quite catch Kyle Busch last year. His frustration could be fantasy owners’ elation, however, because he does not need to win to be a great value. With a ton of momentum on his side, this could be Keselowski’s year to finally become the bride and leave his role as bridesmaid behind.
2. Kyle Busch
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 3.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 8.1 in 9 starts
Busch has not been overly strong at Sonoma throughout his career, but he is one of the Cup drivers who seem to know the difference between the two road courses. He has been almost perfect on the high-speed Watkins Glen International and except for a brief stumble in his inaugural attempt in 2005, he has never failed to crack the top 10. Two of his nine starts ended in Victory Lane and he will be one of the drivers talked about in the closing laps of the Cheez-it 355k at the Glen.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 5.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 12.4 in 8 starts
Truex has been exceptional at Watkins Glen in his last three attempts. He swept the top-10, with two of those efforts landing in the top five. In that same span of time, he was almost as strong at Sonoma so that he enters the weekend with seven top-15s in his last eight road course races. Truex’s only start with Furniture Row on this track type came in June and he finished 15th, but the communication should have improved with six weeks’ time.
4. Jimmie Johnson
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 7.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 12.8 in 12 starts
Johnson has been inconsistent throughout his career at Watkins Glen, but he is currently riding a three-race, top-10 streak there. His best effort came in 2012 when he started and finished third in the Finger Lakes 355k at the Glen, but the real attraction is his overall road course record. Johnson enters this week’s race with a seven-race, top-10 streak on NASCAR’s twisty tracks and so long as he does not gamble too wildly with tire pressures, he should be good for another.
4. Clint Bowyer
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 7.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 14.4 in 8 starts
Bowyer does not have the background one usually associates with a strong road racer and that allowed him to sneak up on the competition in the 2012 Toyota / Save Mart 350k at Sonoma. He is not catching anyone by surprise these days with a worst finish of 11th in his last seven road course races, but he is still one of the best values in salary cap games. In the Yahoo! game, he should be considered one of the favorites along with Kyle Busch in Group A. Pound for pound, he is one of this week’s best picks.
6. AJ Allmendinger
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 9.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 9.2 in 5 starts
Allmendinger is treating this as an opportunity race. While the JTG-Daugherty Racing team is capable of contending for a top-10 or even top–five on short tracks, they are capable of winning this week. Allmendinger became one of the top drivers last year in the Nationwide series on road courses and he carried that skill with him to this team. He was challenging for a top-five at Sonoma when he was run off course and could only manage to climb back to 37th. This is his best chance for success, which everyone knows is the best revenge.
7. Carl Edwards
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 10.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 8.8 in 9 starts
Edwards stumbled slightly in the 2011 and 2012 editions of this week’s race, but he had a five-race, top-10 streak immediately preceding it. Last year he rebounded to finish fourth in the Cheez-it 355k at the Glen and should be a fairly safe pick to repeat with at least a top-10. The biggest concern is his Roush-Fenway Racing equipment, of which he has been openly critical all season. Listen to his interviews in practice and qualification this week and if he puts a positive spin on things, he could be a good value.
8. Marcos Ambrose
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 11.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 6.8 in 6 starts
Last year Ambrose entered the Cheez-it 355k at the Glen with a three-year average of 1.67; he was probably not going to contend for the win after the team got off sequence on pit strategy, but a top-10 should have been well within his grasp until he overreached and sustained damage on a late-race restart. Cautions breed cautions and Ambrose crashed hard soon after the race went green. His 31st-place finish was disappointing, but it is currently the only time he has finished worse than third on this track.
9. Kevin Harvick
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 11.33
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 13.1 in 13 starts
The book on Harvick for quite some time and on most tracks has been his consistency. That is what elevates him to the top 10 this week because his last three Watkins Glen attempts have ended in results ranging from sixth through 15th. In fact, he has finished in the top 15 in all but two of his starts and both of those dissenting races were caused by crash damage. If all goes well—and it has on a couple of occasions this year—he is even capable of winning, like he did in the 2006 Watkins Glen race.
10. Ryan Newman
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 13.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 15.7 in 12 starts
Along with Harvick, Newman is one of the most consistent racers on road courses. He has not scored a top-10 at Watkins Glen since 2006, but his last four efforts all ended in results of 16th or better. He has been a little less constant at Sonoma, but his last two races there were also in the 11th- to 15th-place range. Newman could be one of this week’s top picks if he fits a specific niche on a player’s roster.
Others of Note
11. Joey Logano
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 14.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 18.6 in 5 starts
Logano has been uneven on road courses during his career and given his overall strength on unrestricted ovals in 2014, fantasy owners will be hard-pressed to put him on their roster. He should be watched for signs of strength in practice, however, because he once strung three top-10s together on this track type in 2011 and 2012. He added a seventh in last year’s edition of this race, but that does not quite tip the scales in his favor.
12. Matt Kenseth
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 15.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 15.6 in 14 starts
Kenseth is an object lesson to players who put all of their faith in consistency. He entered last year’s edition of this race with a six-race streak of top-15s and kept hope alive by qualifying 10th. He never really got going and finished 23rd, which is his second-worst result in 14 starts.
14. Greg Biffle
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 17.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 23.1 in 11 starts
If Biffle’s overall road course record is taken into consideration, he doesn’t look that bad. Four of his last five attempts on this road course ended in the top 10 and he has another strong run from 2010. He has had only one top-15 at Watkins Glen since then, however, and that was a sixth in 2012. Biffle can easily be left in the garage unless he shows remarkable speed in practice.
21. Jeff Gordon
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 23.33
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 15.8 in 21 starts
If fantasy NASCAR is about what a driver has done lately, the answer for Gordon is, “not very much.” Players who take a longer view will note that he has four wins on this track and was once the most dominant road course driver in stock cars. Gordon is having a throwback year, however, and that should be good for several positions. It is unlikely that he will challenge for the win, but he should be good to earn his third top-10 in the past 13 races at the Glen.
23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 24.33
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 11.5 in 15 starts
Road courses are rhythm tracks and Earnhardt found his in 2003 to 2005. In three Watkins Glen races at that tme, he swept the top 10 after starting that well on two occasions. He has not finished in the top 10 in eight races since then and has only one top-15 to show for his effort. The good news is that he finished third in June’s Toyota / Save Mart 350k and that could put him on the right path this week.
26. Kurt Busch
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 26.00
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 19.8 in 13 starts
Busch had problems in back-to-back races in 2011 and 2012. He crashed in 2011 and broke a suspension in 2012, which left him in the 30s on both occasions. Bracketing those two disappointing runs were a second in 2010 and a ninth last year, so there is some reason for his fans to be hopeful. Fantasy owners are advised to watch him from the sidelines this week in light of the remarkable inconsistency at Stewart-Haas Racing, however.
28. Aric Almirola
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 27.50
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 30.0 in 3 starts
Almirola has only three starts at the Glen, so things could still turn around. In those races he finished in the 30s twice and scored a best of 18th. His last three Sonoma races ended in the 20s, which could define his high water mark, but that is little incentive to put him on a fantasy roster.
30. Denny Hamlin
Last three races average finish at Watkins Glen: 29.67
Career avg. finish at Watkins Glen: 19.5 in 8 starts
Hamlin got off to a great start at Watkins Glen with four consecutive top-10s. One of these was a second-place finish in 2007 to Tony Stewart, who was then on a streak of six consecutive finishes of first or second. He crashed in 2010 and again in 2011. He blew an engine in 2012, and even though he went the distance last year, he finished only 19th. Save Hamlin for a flat track later in the year.
NR. Kyle Larson
0 starts at Watkins Glen
Larson will make his first Cup start at Watkins Glen and only his second road course attempt in the senior series. His Sonoma effort earlier this year was derailed by broken power steering and he finished 28th. His single Nationwide start at the Glen ended in a blown engine and 30th-place result, so he gets left in the garage this week because of uncertainty.
Driver: 3-Yr Avg. / Starts
1. Brad Keselowski: 2.00 / 3
2. Kyle Busch: 3.67 / 3
3. Martin Truex Jr. : 5.67 / 3
4. Jimmie Johnson: 7.00 / 3
4. Clint Bowyer: 7.00 / 3
6. AJ Allmendinger: 9.00 / 2
7. Carl Edwards: 10.00 / 3
8. Marcos Ambrose: 11.00 / 3
9. Kevin Harvick: 11.33 / 3
10. Ryan Newman: 13.67 / 3
11. Joey Logano: 14.67 / 3
12. Matt Kenseth: 15.00 / 3
13. Casey Mears: 16.00 / 3
14. Greg Biffle: 17.67 / 3
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. : 18.00 / 1
16. Danica Patrick: 20.00 / 1
17. Paul Menard: 20.33 / 3
18. Jamie McMurray: 22.33 / 3
19. Boris Said: 23.00 / 3
19. Tony Stewart: 23.00 / 2
21. Jeff Gordon: 23.33 / 3
22. David Ragan: 23.67 / 3
23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 24.33 / 3
23. Kasey Kahne: 24.33 / 3
25. Landon Cassill: 25.50 / 2
26. David Gilliland: 26.00 / 3
26. Kurt Busch: 26.00 / 3
28. Aric Almirola: 27.50 / 2
29. Alex Kennedy: 29.00 / 1
30. Denny Hamlin: 29.67 / 3
31. Brian Vickers: 31.00 / 3
32. Travis Kvapil: 32.00 / 2
33. Joe Nemechek: 34.50 / 2
34. Josh Wise: 38.00 / 1
35. Michael McDowell: 38.67 / 3
Most caution flags: 10, 2006 AMD at the Glen
Fewest caution flags: 0 (3 times), 1990 Budweiser at the Glen, 1965 Grand National Race No 33, 1957 Grand National Race No 35
Average number of caution flags per race: 6.5
Final Caution, last five races:
August 2013: Lap 86 of 90 – 3-car accident in turn four (Marcos Ambrose, Max Papis, and Brian Vickers)
August 2012: Lap 72 of 90 – one-car accident on frontstretch (Tony Stewart)
August 2011: Lap 92 of 92 – during green-white-checkered, three-car accident in turn three (David Reutimann, David Ragan, and Boris Said)
August 2010: Lap 72 of 90 – 2-car accident in turn seven (Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson)
August 2009: Lap 72 of 90 – debris in turn 1
Most caution laps: 36, 1988 The Budweiser at the Glen
Fewest caution laps: 0 (3 times), 1990 Budweiser at the Glen, 1965 Grand National Race No 33, 1957 Grand National Race No 35
Average number of caution laps per race: 31.0
Leading the way
Most leaders: 11 (2 times), 2006 AMD at the Glen, 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen
Fewest leaders: 1, 1957 Grand National Race No 35
Average number of leaders: 10.6
Most lead changes: 14 (3 times), 2011 Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, 2006 AMD at the Glen, 1991 Budweiser at the Glen
Fewest lead changes: 0, 1957 Grand National Race No 35
Average number of lead changes: 24.4
Last five winners at Watkins Glen (starting position):
August 2013: Kyle Busch (5)
August 2012: Marcos Ambrose (5)
August 2011: Marcos Ambrose (3)
August 2010: Juan Pablo Montoya (3)
August 2009: Tony Stewart (13)
Worst starting position for race winner: 14th, Robby Gordon 2003 Sirius at the Glen
A race at Watkins Glen has been won by the pole sitter nine times and from the front row 11 times in 31 races.
Active winners at Watkins Glen:
Tony Stewart: 5
Jeff Gordon: 4
Marcos Ambrose: 2
Kyle Busch: 2
Kevin Harvick: 1
First time winners at Watkins Glen:
2011: Marcos Ambrose, Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen
2000: Steve Park, Global Crossing at the Glen
Running at the End
The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Watkins Glen race they started:
Matt Kenseth (14)
Tony Stewart (14)
Kevin Harvick (13)
Ryan Newman (12)
Kasey Kahne (10)
Casey Mears (10)
Kyle Busch (9)
Carl Edwards (9)
Clint Bowyer (8)
Martin Truex Jr. (8)
AJ Allmendinger (5)
Joey Logano (5)
Brad Keselowski (4)
Reed Sorenson (4)
Landon Cassill (2)
Alex Kennedy (1)
Danica Patrick (1)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1)