NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Watkins Glen

August 06, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Watkins Glen
Road course experts will be value picks for this week's fantasy roster

Six weeks after visiting Sonoma, NASCAR heads to Watkins Glen International for their second and final road course event of the year.

In the intervening weeks, drivers have tested their mettle on three flat circuits and it is widely believed that the expertise needed to go fast on these courses translates well to the twisty tracks. Road racing in itself is a specialized skill, and logic would suggest that the same cast of characters who ran with the leaders in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 should excel this week.

Conventional wisdom is often wrong, or at the very least needs clarification, and while there are certain drivers who run strong at both Sonoma and The Glen, there is also plenty of parity in the field. Last year, only two drivers swept the top five in both road course events. Four drivers swept the top 10 and only seven doubled-down in regard to top-15s. In 2011, only one driver swept the top five.

Watkins Glen is the superspeedway of road courses. The racing surface is wide and speeds are much greater. Last year’s pole speed for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen was 127.020 mph; this spring in Sonoma, Jamie McMurray topped the charts at only 94.986 mph for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. While most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars cannot tell the difference between one road course compared to another, some can -- and it will pay dividends to know who is who.

Driver rankings, road courses in the last three years

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Marcos Ambrose

4.15

2.

Martin Truex Jr.

8.55

3.

Jimmie Johnson

9.00

4.

AJ Allmendinger

9.10

5.

Jeff Gordon

10.71

6.

Clint Bowyer

11.18

7.

Juan Pablo Montoya

11.62

8.

Kyle Busch

12.05

9.

Carl Edwards

12.20

10.

Tony Stewart

12.95

11.

Brad Keselowski

12.96

12.

Kurt Busch

13.73

13.

Kasey Kahne

16.14

14.

Kevin Harvick

17.82

15.

Joey Logano

19.42

16.

Jamie McMurray

19.46

17.

Greg Biffle

19.59

18.

Ryan Newman

20.86

19.

Matt Kenseth

21.00

20.

Brian Vickers

21.00

21.

Denny Hamlin

23.57

22.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

23.84

23.

Paul Menard

23.98

24.

Jeff Burton

24.22

25.

Casey Mears

26.23

26.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

26.91

27.

Boris Said

27.16

28.

Aric Almirola

27.18

29.

Tony Raines

28.00

30.

David Gilliland

29.04

31.

Ron Fellows

29.87

32.

David Reutimann

30.46

33.

David Ragan

31.57

34.

Travis Kvapil

33.97

35.

Danica Patrick

34.36

36.

David Stremme

34.56

37.

Dave Blaney

34.60

38.

Alex Kennedy

34.82

39.

Josh Wise

36.79

40.

Victor Gonzalez Jr.

37.10

41.

Michael McDowell

37.95

42.

Joe Nemechek

39.65

43.

JJ Yeley

41.31

The Favorites

At the end of his career, Marcos Ambrose will be recognized as one of the greatest NASCAR road course racers of all time. In 11 attempts on this track type, the only time he failed to crack the top 10 was because of an accident in his debut at Sonoma in 2008. Since then he has been perfect in regard to top-10s on the combined road courses and even better at The Glen. In five starts on this track, he has never finished worse than third and enters with back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012. That has translated to a lot of points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game as he has the second-most fastest laps led and the most quality passes, according to NASCAR Statistical Services.

Juan Pablo Montoya will be much less popular with fantasy owners this week and that could provide an opportunity to make one’s roster distinct from the competition. He enters the weekend with three consecutive 30-something results on road courses and that has left a negative impression on fantasy owners. All three of those races have asterisks behind them, however; Montoya had an electrical problem last year at Sonoma, crashed at The Glen, and ran out of gas this June in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Bad luck is hard to predict and Montoya had been stronger at The Glen in the past five years, with an average finish of 10.2, compared to 21.2 in Sonoma. He also has the fourth-most fastest laps run at Watkins Glen in the past eight races and is even better during the past three years with the second-most.

Kyle Busch offers another chance to differentiate one’s roster. He suffered through a miserable race in Sonoma, but that has been his pattern in recent years. His average finish on the tight, technical turns of that track is a disappointing 24.8, but his average at the Glen is 4.6. Last year, he was in position to win his second race there until he was spun by Brad Keselowski on the final lap. He recovered and scored his seventh consecutive top-10 on this track.

Dark Horses

AJ Allmendinger missed the last two road course races and could be a little rusty as a result. That is why he is listed as a dark horse instead of a provisional favorite, but his numbers on the twisty tracks are very encouraging. Allmendinger finished ninth in the 2012 Toyota/Save Mart 350, his eighth consecutive top-15 on this track type. With a salary cap of $9.50, he will free up a lot of cash and allow players to upgrade their top picks. Allmendinger will be in the No. 47 this week and the driver has a greater impact on road courses than any other track type, so his experience in open wheel racing will serve him well.

Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma this June and that surprised a lot of fantasy owners. During the past five years, he has been even stronger at The Glen; however, with an average finish that is more than seven positions greater than on the other course. He is not a particularly strong qualifier with an average start of 14th, but he improves by nearly five positions during a race and along the way he scores a lot of quality passes. Truex is ranked fourth on the chart for both the past eight races and the most recent three years.

Road Ringers

Road ringers became pertinent again at Sonoma this June. Boris Said was 18th in that race with Ron Fellows crossing under the checkers 22nd. Both of them were good values at $10 and one of them should be on fantasy rosters this week to free up some salary cap room. The difference between the two is minimal; Fellows has run better at The Glen in the support series, but Said has improved in each of his last three road course races. Make the decision for which of them to start on race day, and give the nod to the driver who qualifies the farthest back in the pack because he will earn the most place differential points.

Owen Kelly is another driver who should be on fantasy owners’ radar screens. He will pilot the No. 51 this week and he has some big shoes to fill -- not so much because of how that team has performed in recent road course events, but because he follows Ambrose over from the Australian V8 Supercar series. Kelly has made only two starts in Nationwide Series competition, but he has been perfect with top-fives in the last two events at Road America. He probably won't crack the top-20, but will make a lot of noise on Sunday.

Driver Change

On Monday night, Tony Stewart crashed while leading a sprint car race at Southern Iowa Speedway, breaking two bones in his right leg. He will not race on Sunday and Max Papis has been named as his replacement. As a new driver to the game, Papis is going to come in with a bargain-basement price tag and the two match up well in terms of road racing ability and aggression on the track. Papis will be one of this week’s best values.