Allmendinger always a threat on road courses

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hit the roads for the second time this season, this time at Watkins Glen International on Sunday. It is a much faster course than what we saw in June at Sonoma with all its elevation changes.

An example of how vastly different they are can be seen in the qualifying speeds from the last race on each. A.J. Allmendinger was on the pole at Sonoma with speed at 96.31 mph. Jeff Gordon won last year’s pole at Watkins Glen at 129.466 mph. Sonoma, technical. Watkins Glen, fast straightaways.

We don’t talk a lot about A.J. Allmendinger for 34 of the 36 races each year, but the road courses is where he becomes one of the favorites. He won his first and only career race at The Glen last season in a brilliant effort. He took the lead with three laps to go over road ace Marcos Ambrose. The win made him eligible for the Chase, which he hopes to duplicate Sunday.

Ambrose is no longer racing in America, which means Allmendinger’s chances of winning are greatly enhanced. And it’s logically his only real chance to make this year’s Chase.

Kyle Busch started his incredible run of winning four of five races at Sonoma. He beat brother Kurt Busch to the finish line by a half-second. Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five.

Watkins Glen still takes a skilled all-around driver to master both the left and right turns where entering and exiting turns is where the best take advantage. There are quite a few drivers who raced mostly on ovals their entire life and regularly struggle when asked to make right and left turns.

The last season Kyle Busch had that was similar to what he’s doing lately was in 2008 when he swept both road races. He also won at The Glen in 2013 and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be racing for the win or he shouldn’t be considered the favorite.

That is unless you believe his 40th-place finish in last year’s Glen is relevant.

Jeff Gordon is widely considered the best NASCAR road racer because of his nine career wins. However, he hasn’t won on a road course since 2006 at Sonoma or at Watkins Glen since 2001. From 1997-99, Gordon won three straight Watkins Glen events, but hasn’t had a top-five since that 2001 win.

Gordon looks to be in decent position to make the Chase on points even if he doesn’t win a race, but like Allmendinger, this might present his best chance to seal the deal. Three top-fives in 21 races isn’t very Gordon-like, and a terrible way to send out the four-time champ.

Car owner Rick Hendrick should have heads rolling in the garage to make things better for the driver who took the Hendrick name into the Hall of Fame. For whatever reason, Gordon hasn’t been given equipment that matches Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. within the stable. That’s too bad, but don’t be surprised if you see that spark ignited within the No. 24 team in the near future.

Brad Keselowski is a driver who averages a 19th-place finish at Sonoma, but was runner-up at Watkins Glen from 2011-13. Last season he finished 35th, but look for another finish fighting for the win. This time he doesn’t have to race Ambrose, who won two of the races Keselowski finished second.

Kurt Busch finished third in this race last season and had a career-best second-place in 2010. He’s been better at Sonoma, where he won in 2011, but the Stewart Haas horsepower is going to have him fare well on the straights. Look for a possible 1-2 Busch brothers finish again like Sonoma, just maybe not the same order of finish.

Kyle Larson adapted well at Watkins Glen last season with fourth-place and Carl Edwards has finished in the top-five in the last two. Edwards won at Sonoma last season. Harvick won at The Glen in 2006 and was seventh last season.

Watkins Glen is one of four tracks Johnson has never won on over his career, but he’s always run competitively off the ovals with a 13.9 average in 13 starts. His lone road course win came at Sonoma in 2010.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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