NASCAR Watkins Glen 2013: Cheez-It 355 viewer's guide

Jerry Markland

The storylines and drivers to watch for during Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen.

As the Sprint Cup Series prepares for its last road course race of the season, here is a preview of the Cheez-It 355.


Expect the unexpected

Twelve months later it's still a finish that leaves people talking, as Marcos Ambrose along with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch staged one of the more memorable final lap battles in recent memory. And it's that kind of excitement that has come to define NASCAR road course races with the action often resembling the fierceness that for years was associated with short track racing.

In addition to the amped action, road courses also have a knack for producing unexpected winners. Martin Truex Jr. was a driver few tabbed as a potential winner at Sonoma, and all he did was lead the most laps and win by a hefty eight-second margin. His teammate Clint Bowyer also pulled a shocker when he won on the same track the year before. So while Ambrose enters Sunday as the prohibitive favorite, remember by no means is it a lock that he will drive away with his third consecutive victory at The Glen.

Watkins Glen Compared To Sonoma

Unlike Sonoma, the other road course on the Sprint Cup schedule, Watkins Glen is faster and less technical. If a driver makes a mistake here getting into a corner, there is time to recover, get back in a rhythm and still turn in a solid lap. The track in upstate New York also features more passing zones than its counterpart in Northern California, so drivers don't have to resort to using their bumpers to get around a competitor -- though on occasion, they still do.

But there is a fine line on just how forgiving the Glen can be. At Sonoma there are more runoff areas, so it's typical to see a driver spin off course and get right back on track with little consequence. That's not necessarily the case here due to narrowness of the track and the proximity of the guardrail to the racing surface. And the result is a single-car spin that frequently turns into a multi-car incident as drivers have little margin to avoid one another.

A Win For Juan?

A look at the standings shows Juan Pablo 23rd, giving the appearance that it's been another trying season for the driver who hasn't won a race in three years. However this is misleading.

Although the results haven't been there this season for the No. 42 team, the performance has been with near wins at Richmond and Dover. And he was also running second at Sonoma before running out of fuel on the final lap and finished 34th.

But Watkins Glen represents an excellent opportunity for Montoya to breakthrough and snap a winless streak spanning 108 races. As evident by both of his Cup wins coming on road courses, when required to turn left and right, few do it better in NASCAR than the man who has seven F1 victories on his résumé.

A win Sunday would allow Montoya to salvage a season which has otherwise been filled with disappointment and frustration.

Worth Noting
  • This weekend sees Tony Stewart's consecutive start streak end at 521 races, third-most among active drivers trailing Jeff Gordon (721) and Jeff Burton (613).

  • If Ambrose claims victory Sunday, he will join Mark Martin (1993-1995) and Jeff Gordon (1997-1999) as the only drivers to win three straight races at Watkins Glen.

  • If you're looking for a potential winner, don't scan too far down the starting lineup, as qualifying well is critical to winning on the 2.45-mile circuit. Of the 30 Cup races held at Watkins Glen, only once has an eventual winner started worse than 14th (Steve Park, 2000).
  • Favorites

    1. Marcos Ambrose

    Not only is Ambrose the favorite Sunday, he's the overwhelming favorite. In five career starts at Watkins Glen he has two wins and never finished worse than third. And he is also starting on the pole after smashing the track-record in qualifying.

    2. Kyle Busch

    Busch isn't held in the same regard as Ambrose, Montoya and other noted road racers. But in the last two races at Watkins Glen no driver has led more laps than Busch, who also has a streak of seven consecutive top 10s and pulled the road course sweep in 2008.

    3. Brad Keselowski

    The winner of Saturday's Nationwide Series race has been the runner-up to Ambrose the previous two years. Having qualified eighth there is little reason to think he won't be in contention; he sorely needs a victory as he attempts to secure a Chase berth.

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