It’s onto the final road course race of the season this week, a short week for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series after rain postponed the race at Pocono Raceway until Monday, for the second time this season (it also marked the first time in NASCAR history that a track had two weather postponements in the same season). The Pocono race not only made history due to weather, it also marked the first career win for Chris Buescher, a long shot bet who had 1000-1 odds. It’s doubtful anyone bet on him to win, but if you bet the field, you probably came away pretty happy.
One thing’s for sure, there will be another first at Watkins Glen Sunday. The track has been repaved and while there was a short two-day test by several teams last week, the new surface has not seen any racing. That will be perhaps the biggest challenge Sunday.
“Because of the repaving, there will be more grip everywhere,” said Tony Stewart who will be making his final appearance here as a full time Cup driver. “Braking zones have more grip, getting in the gas has more grip, cornering has more grip. Anytime there is more grip, it’s harder to pass. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Here are my favorites for Sunday’s 22nd race of the year for your betting or fantasy racing leagues. Driver Ratings are compiled from 2005-2016 races (11 total) among active drivers at Watkins Glen International. The Driver Rating is a number based on a formula developed by NASCAR which combines “loop data” elements such as average running position, average speed under green, number of fastest laps, and other stats. There is a maximum of 150 points that a driver can earn for each race. The odds are current as of Wednesday.
Tony Stewart (12-1) is the favorite this week. He has the highest driver rating in the field, 116.1, and has the most wins among active drivers at the Glen with five. With the extra motivation of his final outing, his win at the last road course race, Sonoma in June, and his strong showings the past couple of weeks, Stewart should be the driver to beat.
Kyle Busch (7-1) has two wins here the most recent coming in 2013. He has the second highest driver rating in the field, 109.9, and was second in this race last year. Kyle has been somewhat off the radar in the last few weeks, but that could all change Sunday.
Brad Keselowski (10-1) has never won at the Glen, but was among those testing here last week. He had a nasty crash when the brakes on his Ford failed, but walked away uninjured and still no doubt gained some valuable intel. He had the third highest driver rating in the field, 99.4, and led the second most laps in this race last year.
Kevin Harvick (8-1) was the driver who led the most laps here last year. He won here in 2006, and has eighth highest driver rating in the field, 92.9. If he had not run out of fuel on the final lap last year, Harvick could have been celebrating his second Watkins Glen victory. He should among the front runners and in contention for the win again this Sunday.
Carl Edwards (10-1) has never won at the Glen. However he has won at the other road course, Sonoma. While the Glen and Sonoma are road courses, the Glen is faster and less technical than Sonoma. Despite this Edwards has shown some fast speed all season long, has the fifth best driver rating in the field, 95.1. Edwards could be setting up to score another road course win, this time at the Glen.
OTHERS: Jeff Gordon (10-1) is back for another week as a super sub for the ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr. A Gordon win would be popular, and he does have four here, but the last was in2001, and his driver rating, 85.1, isn’t the best. Kurt Busch (7-1) would be a pretty decent bet. He’s never won here but has been strong much of the season, has won at Sonoma and has the sixth best driver rating at the Glen, 94.5.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International will be run on Sunday August 7. Live coverage will be on USA Network starting at 2:00 p.m. ET with the green flag coming at about 2:30 p.m. ET.