Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for in today's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen:
Jeff Gordon's Resurgence
From engine issues, to wrecks not of his own doing, to plain ol' fashioned bad luck, Jeff Gordon has seemingly had a black cloud hovering over him this year. That all changed, though, last week in a single lap. First, Gordon was gifted the lead when Jimmie Johnson spun out, quickly followed by the skies opening up and the race being halted.
The unlikely victory has resurrected Gordon's playoff fortunes - a position few thought was possible back in mid-May when the four-time champ was 24th in points. But as Gordon said himself this weekend, more work still needs to be done if he is to make the Chase.
This means he needs to continue to show the form he has in the last seven weeks, where he has racked up one win, two top-fives and six top-10 finishes. But doing so might be tough, as Watkins Glen has not been good to Gordon in recent years, as he has just two top 10s - with a best finish of ninth - in his last 10 Glen starts.
The Busch Brothers
The Busch brothers each head into this weekend needing a win for their own respective reasons.
Older brother Kurt is looking to extend a winning streak which dates back to the 2002 season. And the reality is that while driving for an underfunded team with limited resources, a win is going to be hard to come by most weeks. But on a road course, the ability of a driver plays more into the outcome compared to an oval - as witnessed by Busch's inspiring third-place result at Sonoma in June -Busch should be expected to be in contention for the victory.
For Kyle, speed hasn't been an issue; his downfall in 2012 has been reliability - six times this year he has finished 29th or worse. That inconsistency has put Busch on the Chase bubble and in a position where he is going to have to win one of the next five races if he is to qualify for the playoffs.
The good news for both is that each is a proven winner on the road courses, with Kurt having won at Sonoma last year and Kyle Busch sweeping both road course events in 2008.
Watkins Glen Compared To Sonoma
Unlike the other road course, Sonoma, 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 and quickly 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 spinoff 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 frequently turns into a multi-car incident as drivers have little margin to avoid one another.
A Win For Juan?
It's been a very trying season for Juan Pablo Montoya, as the numerous changes his Earnhardt-Ganassi team undertook in the offseason haven't produced the desired effect. Neither Montoya nor his teammate Jamie McMurray have finished better than seventh and both have been uncompetitive more weeks than not.
Today, however, that might all change, as Montoya, one of the series' top road course racers, is starting on the pole. And as such, he's put himself in excellent opportunity to salvage a season which has otherwise been filled with disappointment.
- If Sonoma winner Clint Bowyer wins today, he will join Jeff Gordon (1998, '99) Robby Gordon (2003), Tony Stewart (2005) and Kyle Busch (2008) as the only drivers to win at both Watkins Glen and Sonoma in the same season.
- In 25 combined starts on a road course, Matt Kenseth has yet to finish a race inside the top five.
- Qualifying is extremely important at Watkins Glen, as 28 of the 29 winners have started 14th or better. The only exception was Steve Park, who here in 2000 from the 18th position.
1. Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose isn't just good at Watkins Glen, he's terrific. In four career starts he has finished first, third, second and third.
2. Kyle Busch
He's not Marcos Ambrose-level good, but Kyle Busch is no slouch. In total, he owns an average finish of 8.1 on the seven-turn road course, and in his last six races here, today's outside pole-sitter hasn't finished worse than ninth.
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
Surprisingly, this marks the first time Juan Pablo Montoya has started a NASCAR road course race from the pole. And this, along with Montoya saying yesterday he expects to be a contender, makes him someone to watch this afternoon.