This week's race at Watkins Glen marks the halfway point in the "Race for the Chase." While victories become even more precious with every passing week, the battle for the final spot in the Chase field will continue to be a primary focus.
A total of 28 drivers remain mathematically alive for the Chase, but only three can realistically move into the 12th spot ahead of Kurt Busch this week. The fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is only seven points behind Busch, while Ryan Newman is 90 points off the Chase pace and Jamie McMurray is 113 points behind makes for challenging lineup decisions at this point of the schedule. Road course races are also a great time to use "specialists" who can help you front load your squad with some superstar drivers. The road course aces always make fine bargains.
The Glen is considered the superspeedway of road courses. It has long straightaways and corners with a lot of banking, and high speeds and lots of passing make the races at the site very exciting. This will be the ninth Car of Tomorrow race of 2007. The COT has produced many close finishes so far, so expect a more interesting race than the one at Pocono, where everyone chased Busch for the majority of the afternoon.
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Tony Stewart (23.4): Stewart has three wins at the Glen, and has four top-5 finishes and six top-10s at the site in eight races. In the past two years, he has a win and a second-place finish at the Glen, and leads the field in average running position (2.5), fastest laps run (53) and laps in the top 15 (182) during that span. Stewart will be gunning for his third win in the past four races. He has 457 fastest laps run in 2007, second best among current drivers, and has led in 14 of 21 races for 831 laps.
Jeff Gordon (25.3): He is the ultimate model of reliability this season, with 19 top-10 finishes in 21 races. He also has 14 top-10s and an average finish of 6.3. If he's not on your roster yet, grab a road course ace or two to fit him onto your squad. Gordon leads all current drivers with four wins at the Glen and his 2001 win set the all-time record for road course victories with seven. Gordon has six top-5 finishes and seven top-10s overall at the Glen.
Kevin Harvick (21.8): Harvick won at the Glen last year, making a late push to earn the victory. Harvick passed Stewart on Lap 87 and won by .892 seconds. He will attempt to become only the fourth driver to post consecutive victories at the site. Harvick has four top-10 finishes in six races at the Glen. He has an average finish of eighth and the third-fastest green-flag speed at the site over the past two years. Harvick has five top-10 finishes in his past seven races this year.
Kurt Busch (21.0): Look for him to keep a firm grip on the final Chase spot this week. He took the pole in last year's race at the Glen and led for 38 laps, but a pit road penalty cost him a shot at the win. Busch has strong momentum on his side with new crew chief Pat Tryson, and he has a series-high 1,200 quality passes this year. NASCAR defines quality passes as passes of cars in the top 15 under green-flag conditions. He has led in a dozen races so far, for 536 laps. Busch has finished 11th or better in each of his past four races.
ROAD COURSE RINGERS
Juan Pablo Montoya (18.0): The "rookie" will try to become the first NASCAR driver to win on three road courses in the same season. Montoya won at Mexico City in the Busch Series earlier this year and won the Nextel Cup race at Infineon. Montoya finished second two weeks ago at Indianapolis and ran near the top of the pack during a good portion of the Pocono race. Both tracks are considered to have road course characteristics. Montoya made it clear at Sonoma that he should be a top choice in all road course races because of his past experience on such tracks.
Robby Gordon (15.8): He has three career wins, with his most recent victory coming at the Glen in 2003. Gordon runs regularly in the Nextel Cup series, yet he is still considered a road course specialist. He has finished second and fourth at the site in the past two years. His 67 quality passes during that span are the best in the field, and his average running position of 8.4 is second-best. Gordon has six top-5 finishes in eight races at the Glen.
Patrick Carpentier (12.0): Here's your standout bargain choice for this week. Carpentier will fill in for Scott Riggs in the No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge. He took the pole and finished second in last week's Busch Series race in his hometown of Montreal, another road course. He was unfazed in what was his NASCAR debut and he will be a terrific value pick for a respectable finish this week.
EYE ON THE ACES
P.J. Jones (13.4) will sub for David Reutimann. He has two top-10 finishes in six starts at the Glen. Ron Fellows (14.0) will replace Tony Raines. He has two top-10 finishes in nine starts at the site. Brian Simo (12.7) has two DNFs in two races at the Glen. Klaus Graf (11.3) has never raced at the Glen in the Nextel Cup series. He finished 17th at Sonoma earlier this season. Boris Said (15.9) has two top-10 finishes in six races at the Glen.