More than once you will hear a NASCAR fan opine that there should be a road course included in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase schedule. You can count yours truly among that number. This Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen may not be on the NASCAR’s “playoff” schedule, but rest assured, it may very well affect who gets there
Jeff Gordon vaulted himself into relevancy with his win at Pocono, now holding one of the wild card spots. There must be a bit of a smile on Boy Wonder’s face, as he shares the course record for wins (4) with Tony Stewart. To the downside, it’s been years since Gordon’s been there. It will be critical to his Chase chances that this changes Sunday.
Speaking of Stewart, he would be sharing the top seed with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski if the Chase started today. A win here creates the possibility for separation. It should be noted that on that very short list of tracks Johnson has not won, Watkins Glen is on it. In the last five years, Johnson only shows a pair of top tens to show for his efforts. To the plus side, Johnson has been uberconsistent this season, you can rest assured Stewart and the rest of Cup Gang will be accounting for the presence of the 48.
While Brad Keselowski better fits the profile of an old school NASCAR driver, know that Bad Brad has proven no slouch on road courses, so he also joins the defending champion Stewart and the five-time champ Johnson as one looking to seize an upper hand at the upstate New York track.
Carl Edwards finds himself as one of those bubble drivers with a possibility to revive his season a la Gordon with a in at The Glen. Some may find it hard to believe (Cousin Carl has more of a rep for being an intermediate guy), but Edwards has an average finish at Watkins Glen of 7.3 over the last five years, highest among active drivers who have never won there. He will feel much more comfortable than fellow bubble boys Joey Logano and Paul Menard, whose resumes range for short to un remarkable, though in fairness, it should be noted that Joey has a top five there. Count Kyle Busch as another driver on the outside looking in who looks to reverse recent fortunes. Oh by the way, Busch was a winner in the 2008 race with an excellent road course racing resume.
Edwards’ teammate Matt Kenseth could get a shot at overtaking the top of the standings with a victory, or even just a solid finish Sunday. While Kenseth has a goose egg on his victory scorecard at WGI, in fact he hasn’t even cracked the top ten since 2007, Kenseth has managed a perfectly respectable finishing average of 13.3, and that may be good enough to overtake points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose disdain for road courses is renown.
This also may spell opportunity for top ten drivers such as Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., who come in to this race oh-for-2012. It’s been some time, but Harvick can claim a win at this road course. Truex has a solid record of performance with a pair of top fives in his last four starts at Watkins Glen, not to mention a very steady 2012 overall to date. Though it’s a very different road course than Sonoma, Bowyer’s victory there in June demonstrates he can handle the combination of right and left turns skillfully. With the likes of Gordon, Edwards and Kasey Kahne all not far behind him, a good race for the Kansan will matter not only to keep them at bay, but could very propel him past the likes of Harvick, Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.
Not all fans have an affinity for “stock” cars on road courses,but this Sunday, it won’t matter much. There’s a lot riding on this race, adding further intrigue to the donnybrook sure to ensue against the serene backdrop of the Finger Lakes.
Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.