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article imageNASCAR: Watkins Glen preview — Race favorites & weekend schedule

By Lizz Riggs     Aug 9, 2013 in Sports
The second road course of the season is this weekend at Watkins Glen in New York. With just five weeks to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, many drivers are giving it their all to secure a spot in the top 10 (and two wild card) slots.
Fans started arriving today for the Sprint Cup race, the Cheez-It 355, at Watkins Glen International this Sunday. Eager to get the party started and enjoy a weekend of "vacation, drinking, not sleeping, maybe eating" the campsite guests are eager to see what happens this weekend as drivers Race to the Chase with just five races left.
“You can’t beat the atmosphere,” said Andrew McCloskey, 26. “It’s just everyone coming together. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, Watkins Glen, New York is one of the best races, period, and the atmosphere is unparalleled.” McCloskey is one of many who started partying today and won't stop until Sunday evening.
While race fans are partying and preparing for a great race to watch, drivers are making much more serious preparations. This is the make or break race for some drivers, and a chance for others to secure a spot in one of two road courses of the seasons.
Tony Stewart has a streak of 521 consecutive NASCAR starts that will end this Sunday after breaking his leg in a sprint car race this Monday. He underwent a second surgery Thursday and hopes to be back to racing as soon as possible. Max Papis will drive Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cheez-It 355 this weekend. Stewart held a wild-card slot for the Chase prior to his injury, but is now expected to miss four races at least, and will likely not qualify this year.
"I mean, obviously, it's a huge letdown to everybody at Stewart-Haas, knowing that we were making some great strides," said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's longtime crew chief. "I felt like we were peaking at the right time."
Stewart was previously the favorite for Watkins Glen though, and now that he's out of the picture this weekend, there are two drivers who have a little more confidence (or at least probably feel like they have a little less competition) at Watkins Glen this weekend.
Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Marcos Ambrose
Montoya and Ambrose both shine at the road course. Juan Pablo Montoya has one victory each at Sonoma (2007) and Watkins Glen (2010), while Marcos Ambrose is hoping for his third straight victory at The Glen. A victory by either driver would put him into the top 20 in overall standings and make him a contender for a wild-card slot for the Chase.
Ambrose might be the man to beat this weekend. He has won all three Nationwide races at Watkins Glen he's competed in, he's won two, and finished second once and third twice in the five Cup starts he's had at this track.
"The only thing we need to do at The Glen to have a chance of winning is not screw up," said Montoya, who finished 36th at Sonoma in June after running out of gas while running second with one lap to go. "Yeah, honestly, if we have 10 pit stops, we're in the top three. I'll guarantee you we're in the top three. Worst-case scenario we're fourth. If we run out of brakes, we'll finish fifth."
Ambrose is aiming to become the first Cup driver to win three straight races at the same track since Denny Hamlin at Martinsville (2009-10) and the third to do so at Watkins Glen, along with Jeff Gordon (1997-99) and Mark Martin (1993-95).
"I think it comes down to one simple thing - he's really good," added AJ Allmendinger. "He's just really good in these cars. He's the guy to beat every time he shows up."
Montoya on the other hand, who is currently 23rd in the standings also needs a win this weekend, and is a strong contender to make that happen.
“There is a lot of really good races coming that we've been very close to winning this year that, going there, we know we have a chance,” Montoya said.
“We know we're throwing a lot of points away. We ran out of gas with one lap to go at Sonoma, for example, running second, and we converted a second-place finish into (34th). We can't do that. We've found ways to screw them up. But to tell you the truth, as a team we keep our head up and we keep fighting, and believe me, we believe we have a chance.”
Montoya said that to avoid the team mistakes that have caused them regret in the past races, he has a strategy where he won't punish the car throughout the race, even though he thinks he has enough car control to get away with doing so.
“We’re going to the Glen to win, not second place,” Montoya said. “The truth is, in Sonoma we had a bit of the same approach, but in the end, we noticed that we were giving it our all to win, but because the end result of the strategy was so poor, we used up the car before the end of the race.
“For guys that run in ovals every week, that (Glen course) is very difficult,” Montoya said. “And for me, my background is road-racing, going over curves and hustling the car, that's what it's all about.
“And something that has been really cool this year is, with the new Gen‑6 car, it's so much more agile on road courses, and that makes it so much more fun.”
Watkins Glen Facts, Courtesy of the BleacherReport
These two drivers are not the only competitors at the track though. Another driver who plans to show up this weekend is Jeff Gordon, who has four wins at Watkins Glen and was fighting the good fight just last week at Pocono when he was battling it out for a victory with teammate Kasey Kahne, only to finish second.
Drivers like Martin Truex Jr. (the Sonoma winner and the driver who swept the practice today), Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards are all favorites this weekend as well, with strong finishes in previous road course races and an even stronger desire to win at least one of the final five races.
Most Wins by Active Driver: Tony Stewart (5)
Most Poles by Active Driver: Mark Martin (3)
Best Average Starting Position by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (6.2, Tony Stewart is second at 6.3)
Best Average Finishing Position by Active Driver: Marcos Ambrose (2.0)
Worst Average Finishing Position by Active Driver (four or more starts): Michael McDowell (36.2)
Most Laps Led over last eight races: Kyle Busch (159)
Most Wins by Manufacturer: Chevrolet (16 of 30 races)
Weekend Schedule for Watkins Glen - Aug. 9-11, 2013
FRIDAY, AUGUST 9
3:30-4:15pm ET, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, SPEED
4:20-5:30pm ET, NASCAR Nationwide Series final practice, SPEED
5:35-6:30pm ET, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, SPEED
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
9:35am ET, NASCAR Nationwide Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (NASCAR Road Race Qualifying), ESPN2
11:40am ET, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (NASCAR Road Race Qualifying), ESPN2
2:30pm ET, Zippo 200 at The Glen (82 laps, 200.9 miles), ABC
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
1pm ET, Cheez-It 355 (90 laps, 220.5 miles), ESPN
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