NASCAR hired guns aim at final road course

August 07, 2001 2:05 AM
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The hired assassins return this Sunday to Watkins Glen for the final road course race of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. The lack of success by most of the top NASCAR regulars on the courses prompt many owners to hire the guns; for the most part, it’s been a good decision.

Sears Point and Watkins Glen are the only road courses in NASCAR’s top circuit and some believe it’s two too many. The Busch Series has already eliminated Watkins Glen from its 2002 schedule and it is thought by high-ranking officials that as soon as the New York and Bay area market get ovals, road courses will be no more. But for now, the size of the market and NASCAR’s desire to spread itself everywhere in America will keep the roads.

Seeing the big, heavy Winston Cup cars twisting left and turning right is about as enjoyable as racing gets for this fan. The skill and endurance required on the roads clearly separates the good ones from the bad ones. This week, the bad ones sit.

The top hired assassin in the world is Ron Fellows (5-1). Fellows has been on a roll in 2001. He won the 24 hours of LeMans and the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona, both firsts in his career. Over the course of his career he’s had 20 wins in the SCCA Trans-Am series. In 16 starts in the Busch and Truck series, he’s posted four wins. Two years ago Fellows finished 2nd in his third Winston Cup start. The one constant during his Trans-Am and NASCAR races is that all agree that no one knows more about Watkins Glen than the Fellows, who is from nearby Toronto. If Fellows can keep the Joe Nemechek owned car on the track, he’ll find a way to compete.

Fellows’ teammate during their GTS class winning performance at LeMans was Scott Pruett (15-1) who will be driving Jason Leffler’s Dodge this weekend. Pruett and Fellows have similar experience on road and street circuits, but not at Watkins Glen.

Boris Said (12-1) will drive Robert Pressley’s car. In a Winston Cup test held at the Glen two weeks ago, Said was overwhelmingly the fastest. He’s always been a great qualifier in the Winston Cup Series, but hasn’t made an impact in any race.

Robby Gordon (5-1) will be driving the injured Mike Skinner’s car. This is an interesting match because of how well Gordon has done on the roads in bad cars. Gordon now has the luxury of driving a good car using his natural instinctive road racing skills. In June, Gordon finished second at Sears Point driving Mike Wallace’s car. In that race, some believe Gordon should have and might have won if it weren’t for the game that a lapped Kevin Harvick played with the part-time Winston Cup driver.

The top regular drivers in the series are Jeff Gordon (2-1), Tony Stewart (7-2), and Ricky Rudd (5-1). Tony Stewart has done his best to dethrone Gordon as the best road course driver. He’s done so by earning it and cheap shots. Last year’s race at the Glen saw an overzealous Stewart run Gordon into the wall fighting for position in only the second lap of the race.

Perhaps a changing of the guard is in effect. Jeff Gordon had once won six straight road races before last year’s Watkins Glen race. Before him it was Mark Martin (10-1), and before Martin it was Rusty Wallace (10-1). Cycles change throughout all tracks, but the roads remain a select group. Jeff Gordon may be winless in his last two road starts, but don’t count him out. Look for Stewart and the Assassins to give him his toughest competition.

TOP 5 FINISH Prediction:
1) Jeff Gordon (2-1)
2) Robby Gordon (5-1)
3) Tony Stewart (7-2)
4) Ron Fellows (5-1)
5) Mark Martin (10-1)