This weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event takes us to the Watkins Glen road course for the 22nd race of the season with only five remaining before the Chase for the Championship starts.
For a couple of drivers, this may be their only chance to make it as wins through the first 26 races decide who makes the final two slots of the 12 driver field.
Juan Pablo Montoya won last year’s race giving him his only two Cup wins on road courses. He’s currently 21st in points and wouldn’t have a shot of making it if he wasn’t in the top-20. Montoya is still not mathematically out of it, although his chances are slim.
Brad Keselowski won his second race of the season last week at Pocono. The win moved him into the top-20, but he’s still only 18th. A lot could happen over the next five races to bump him out and negate his two wins.
Right now, Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, David Ragan and Paul Menard are the only drivers with wins outside of the top-10. Hamlin should be expected to move up while a bunch of other drivers are muddled together that don’t have wins on the season.
Drivers like Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are all driving scared right now not knowing whether they should race hard for a win or play it safe for points.
Stewart is a driver who could take care of business this week and go for his sixth win on the track. His five wins are already a track record, but there’s a little bit of concern after a poor finish at the other road course on the circuit at Sonoma. He wasn’t as bad as his 39th-place finish suggests, as he was intentionally thrown into the wall by a vengeful Brian Vickers, but he wasn’t as dominant as we have seen in the past, either.
Jeff Gordon is four-time winner at the Glen and a five-time winner at Sonoma, but hasn’t won a road race since 2006. It’s been since 2001 that he won at the Glen, a period that Stewart was hogging all the wins there. But Gordon did show some life at Sonoma this season with a runner-up finish. He didn’t have anything for the leader, but he battled brilliantly through the field.
The Sonoma dominator in June was Kurt Busch. He was in a class all by himself almost to the same degree we had seen Gordon and Stewart rule in years past.
Watkins Glen isn’t as technical as Sonoma and doesn’t have the elevation changes, but it’s obvious that Busch and the Penske team have some extra Dodge horsepower that the others don’t. Expect him to fare similarly this week.