Road-course season sweeps hard to come by
August 07, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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It's been quite some time since one driver won both road-course races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series during a single season, and the odds of it occurring this year seem long at best.
Then again, maybe Carl Edwards has more than one ace up his sleeve as he prepares to depart for what he no doubt expects to be greener pastures at season's end.
Edwards eased out of Sonoma Raceway in June with his second win of the season and his first on a road course, thanks to some timely pit strategy that put him out front to stay for the final 26 laps.
He hasn't exactly been an also-ran at the Glen, finishing fourth a year ago, so a win there wouldn't be stunning. Given the up and down nature of his season, and the Roush Fenway Racing organization in general these days, however, it would be mildly surprising.
Sweeping the series' two road-course races isn't quite the same as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winning both races at Pocono Raceway this season, or Jimmie Johnson capturing both Sprint Cup races at Daytona last year.
The layout of Pocono didn't change in the handful of weeks between this year's two events. Officials didn't add a fourth turn during the six-week break; the race wasn't run clockwise in June, counter-clockwise in July.
But Sonoma and Watkins Glen? We're talking apples and oranges here. Sonoma is the slower and the shorter of the two layouts. It features a slight left turn just past the start/finish line, and then it's an uphill run to begin the 1.99-mile trek.
Watkins Glen has fewer turns (seven compared to Sonoma's even dozen), a longer front straightaway and a downhill, hard right turn to get things started. And it's nearly one-half mile longer at 2.45 miles.
"Everyone always loops together Sonoma and Watkins Glen since they're both road courses," Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, said. "But they're both very unique and different from one another."
Watkins Glen, Kenseth said, likely matches up more closely with Michigan "since it's a really fast track where you keep your momentum up."
The last driver to sweep the road course races was Kenseth's teammate, Kyle Busch in 2008. Busch is also the most recent winner at the Glen, emerging from a heated battle with Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. a year ago for the victory.
He's as likely a favorite as you can find among the bunch, having finished no worse than ninth since the '06 season.
But he is still searching for that first win of '14, and was a mediocre 19th at Sonoma. That hasn't kept the co-owner/driver from looking forward to this weekend's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, though.
"When you've won five races, it gives you that confidence that you know how to win, and know what you have to do to get to victory lane," said Stewart. "I know what feel I need when we get here. It's just a matter of going out and practicing and putting yourself in that position."
No one enjoyed as much success as four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who earned two sweeps ('98-99) as he reeled off six consecutive road-course wins between Watkins Glen in ‘97 through Sonoma in 2000.
Sonoma, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said, "is a finesse track; Watkins Glen is a track where you have to be aggressive and attack."
While his last six starts at the Glen have produced just a single top-10 finish, Gordon's 2014 season has been anything but average. Twice a winner this year, he was second to Edwards at Sonoma, and has placed 10th or better in 15 of this season's 21 races.
And yet Edwards is the only driver in position to go two-for-two on this year's road-course stops. The Sonoma win was special, in large part because he was racing Gordon for the win at the end.
With a little luck, he might find himself in a similar position on Sunday.
"This is a race," Edwards said, "that I've been looking forward to all year."