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Like the old Elvis Presley hit "It's Now or Never," Juan Pablo Montoya (19.7) and Marcos Ambrose (18.6) are counting on a win at Watkins Glen on Sunday, and if they don't get it you can be sure they'll be singing the blues.
With five races left in the regular season, even if Montoya or Ambrose should pull off the win, when it comes to making the Chase, it will likely be a case of too little, too late. Both are currently on the outside looking in, but if either claims the checkered flag, and gets back into the top 20, there are still four drivers with a win ahead of them and in better position to get the final wild-card spot.
So for these two international stars, one from Colombia and the other Australia, it's all about not ending the year with a zero in the win column. They surely know if they don't get it done this Sunday, chances are they won't win one of the remaining oval-track shootouts. Earlier this season at Sonoma, Montoya led a couple of laps but wound up 22nd, while Ambrose came home fifth, but never gave any indication he had a chance to run up front.
They should do fairly well in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, but I don't see them winning and they'll have to put up a real fight to run top-five. The main reason: I just don't think their cars are as good as last season when Montoya won and Ambrose was third across the stripe. If their machines are close to being fast enough, then they have a chance. But, if Ambrose comes on the radio shortly after the race gets underway and says his car is a piece of junk, like he did at Sonoma, then it's going to be a tough afternoon. Still, given their values, they are probably worth the gamble this weekend.
I also like the price of the man who I've made the favorite, Tony Stewart (22.4). His Watkins Glen stats are spectacular and his team proved capable of putting a solid road-race machine underneath him when he ran so well at Sonoma, before he decided to wipe out Brian Vickers, who would later return the favor with Tony running top-five. I also like the Busch brothers. Kurt (23.7) won at Sonoma and was the Watkins Glen runner-up a year ago. Meanwhile, Kyle (24.0) won this race in 2008 and finished eighth in 2010.
Call it a gut feeling, but, although his stats at the Glen haven't been that great lately, I liked the way Jeff Gordon (21.8) raced his way to a runner-up at Infineon Raceway back in June. Also, in this resurgent year for the California driver, we shouldn't forget he's won four times at Watkins Glen and was 10th in '10. His teammate Jimmie Johnson (24.0) should be his steady self, but if he's not already on your team this is certainly not the week to mortgage the ranch to buy him. The same goes for Carl Edwards (23.4).
Along with Stewart, Gordon, Montoya and Ambrose, Denny Hamlin (21.7) might be another solid, midlevel buy as well as perhaps AJ Allmendinger (20.0) and Martin Truex Jr. (19.4).
Getting a low-value driver on your team this week that you're really in love with is going to be pretty hard to do. Jamie McMurray (16.6) is an underrated road racer who was 15th at Sonoma this year and sixth at the Glen last season. His inconsistency is also scary. Jeff Burton (16.5) was top-10 a year ago at the Glen, but he hasn't been top-10 once in 2011.
Among the road-course ringers, the only two to consider are Canadian Ron Fellows (13.0) and the madman with the afro, Boris Said (13.1). Driving the No. 51 in place of Landon Cassill, Said will have a car and engine that comes from Hendrick Motorsports. That was the equipment he also had when he finished 28th at Sonoma in June. Fellows, in the meantime, will be driving the No. 32 Ford for new team owner Frank Stoddard. Fellows won't have the car Said will have, but is more apt to stay out of trouble. Said can get himself into trouble easier, but with that kind of car has more upside when it comes to where he could potentially finish.
Then there's always Robby Gordon (13.6), a former winner at the Glen. He's still one of the best on a road course, but when he went to Sonoma earlier this year, it was clear he didn't have the money to put a competitive car underneath him. You can bet, though, he's been pinching pennies, so he doesn't come to Watkins Glen and once again find himself holding a knife in a gunfight.
Remember to join us Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET for our Watkins Glen race-day chat, in which you'll receive the inside information we get from the crew chiefs just hours before the race.
• Greg Biffle has two top-10s in a row, at Indy and Pocono.
• In the past 10 races, Kurt Busch has collected a win, a runner-up and seven top-10 finishes.
• Brother Kyle Busch has been just as hot, because in the past eight outings, he's got a win, five top-5s and six top-10s.
• In the past seven races, Carl Edwards has been top-10 four times and top-15 six.
• Over the past nine races, Jeff Gordon has a win, a runner-up and seven top-10s, with an average finish of 6.5.
• Jimmie Johnson has been top-10 in six of the past nine and is coming off fourth-place run at Pocono.
• In the past 11 races, Matt Kenseth has a win, seven top-10s and an average finish of 10.4.
• Brad Keselowski has been top-10 in three of the past four, with a win last Sunday at Pocono.
• Joey Logano has three top-10s and has led three races in his past six outings. He led 44 laps at Pocono before finishing 25th.
• Paul Menard has two straight top-10s, including win at Indy, and four top-10s in his past seven races.
• Ryan Newman has been top-5 in three of the past four, with a worst finish of 12th and the best a win at Loudon.
• Tony Stewart has finished from second to 12th in his past five races, with average finish of 8.4.
• AJ Allmendinger has just one top-10 in his past nine races, with an average finish of 18.7.
• Teammate Marcos Ambrose has two top-10s in his past nine, but his average finish is 20.8.
• After back-to-back top-10s at Michigan and Sonoma, Clint Bowyer's best finish in the past five races is 13th and his average finish is 23.8.
• After finishing 17th at Pocono, Jeff Burton has yet to record a single top-10 this year in 21 races, and his average finish is 21.3.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up ninth at Pocono, his first top-10 in his past seven races.
• Denny Hamlin has only one top-10 in his past six races.
• Kevin Harvick has been top-10 just twice in the past seven outings.
• In the past nine races, Kasey Kahne has been top-10 only twice.
• Mark Martin, in the past 10 races, has two top-10s and an average finish of 19.9.
• Jamie McMurray has a single top-10 in his past 11 races, with an average finish of 24.3.
• Juan Pablo Montoya has just one top-10 in his past seven races, in which he's averaged a 23.7 finish.
• David Ragan may have won at Daytona and backed that up with an eighth-place run at Kentucky, but those are his only top-10s in his past nine races. He's finished 23rd and 34th in his past two starts.
• David Reutimann has just two top-10s in the first 21 races and an average finish of 21.4.
• Regan Smith was third at Indy, but that was his only top-10 in the past nine races.
• With only one top-10 in the past 10 races, Brian Vickers' average finish during that period is 22.9.
Did you know ...?
• Chevrolet has won 12 of the past 14 races at Watkins Glen. The other two wins belong to Pontiac (Tony Stewart, 2002) and Toyota (Kyle Busch, 2008).
• In the past seven races, two winners have come from the pole, six out of seven started seventh or better and the farthest back a winner has come from is 13th (Tony Stewart, 2009).
• Over the past four years, an average of four to five drivers have finished top-10 in both road races in the same season at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. When you open it up to drivers finishing top-15 in both it was between six and nine per race.
• In three outings, AJ Allmendinger has an average finish of 9.7 and came home fourth a year ago.
• In his three races at the Glen, Marcos Ambrose has finished third, second and third and has been a lap leader the past two years.
• A runner-up a year ago, Kurt Busch has three straight top-10s.
• The past five years at the Glen, Carl Edwards has five top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of sixth.
• Denny Hamlin has four top-10s, including a runner-up, in the past five at Watkins Glen. The lone finish outside the top-10 was 37th when he got a DNF a year ago.
• Casey Mears has finished 15th in two of the past three years he raced at the Glen, which he didn't do in 2010.
• Juan Pablo Montoya is the race's defending winner and in the two previous years finished sixth and fourth.
• In his past nine starts, Tony Stewart has won five times, been the runner-up twice and finished seventh, which came last year. His worst finish since 2002 is 11th (2003) and his average finish in the past nine years is a microscopic 3.0.
• Martin Truex Jr. has two top-10s and three top-15s in the past four years and an average finish of 13.5.
• Greg Biffle has just two top-10 runs in eight races, with an average finish of 25.1, and hasn't led a lap at the Glen since 2003.
A ninth-place finisher a year ago, it was Jeff Burton's first top-10 in the past eight starts and just his fourth at the Glen in 17 tries.
• Clint Bowyer has just one top-10 in five tries and was 32nd a year ago.
• Since finishing top-10 in 2005, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has finished between 18th and 42nd in the next five races with an average finish of 29.4.
• In 2001, Jeff Gordon won at the Glen for the fourth time, but in the ensuing nine races he's been top-10 only twice, one of which was last year when he finished 10th. His average finish the past nine years is 20.8.
• Following a win in 2006, in the next four races Kevin Harvick has finished top-10 just once and his average finish is 22nd. He finished 11th in 2010.
• In nine starts in upstate New York, Jimmie Johnson has collected only four top-10s, finishing 12th and 28th the past two years. His average finish is 14.6 and his best finish was third in 2007.
• Kasey Kahne has finished 17th the past two years, and in nine tries his best finish is 14th. His average finish is 18.1.
• The last time Matt Kenseth finished top-10 was in 2004. The past four years he has been steady, finishing from 12th to 14th.
• Brad Keselowski has made only one appearance at the Glen, starting 32nd and finishing 20th.
• Since 1993, Bobby Labonte has just six top-10s and none in his past six outings, with 20th his best finish.
• Joey Logano has made only two starts at the Glen, starting 35th and finishing 16th in 2009, and in 2010, he took the green flag 18th and finished 33rd.
• From 2002-05, Mark Martin had four straight top-10s, but his past three finishes have been 20th, 23rd and 19th. Martin won three straight at Watkins Glen from the pole position in 1993, '94 and '95.
• Jamie McMurray was sixth a year ago, only his second top-10 in eight tries, with an average finish of 18.3.
• Paul Menard was 16th a year ago, his best finish at the Glen. In seven starts, his average finish is 23.8.
• Ryan Newman was top-10 his first two races, but did so only once in the next seven attempts, with two top-15 finishes, including last year when he came home 12th.
• In his four races at the Glen, David Ragan has finished between 24th and 32nd with an average finish of 27.7.
• Meanwhile, David Reutimann has finished 23rd to 33rd in his three starts with an average finish of 27th.
• Regan Smith has made two appearances, finishing 34th and 37th.
• Brian Vickers didn't race at the Glen last season, but in his six attempts has only one top-10, an eighth-place effort back in 2005.
We went from a three-way tie to a four-way tie for the lead in the second segment of the 2011 ESPN Stock Car Challenge, and all four are new No. 1s. After scoring 186 points apiece, davew21740, ShellzBellz17, Ereshkigel and mikebuffum21 now have 1,708 points after 10 of the 15 Sprint Cup races that make up Segment 2. Holding down fifth, just four points out of the lead, is namroc13, who was tied for first following Indy. Fastgun is sixth, minus five points, and down by just seven in seventh place is cscott399. The other two who were tied for first place last week, BROWNIE31956 and ejcakes86, are now tied for eighth, only eight points off the pace.
As for the overall standings, 21 races into the 36 that make up the Sprint Cup Series season, THERMINATOR was able to regain the lead with a solid 184-point effort at Pocono, giving him a total of 3,455 points. He's 22 points ahead of kamlyn2, who tied for the week's high score of 204. After scoring 173, valcancrook moved from fifth up to third and is 39 points back. Last week's leader, Scottie Ellison, fell three spots to fourth after scoring 141 points and is now 40 out of first. After posting a score of 184, harvick woooo moved into fifth. Falling from first to fourth after Indy, and now down to eighth is longtime leader sagekane, 51 behind the leader.
The Guru scored a decent 151, with the average Pocono score being 147 and, as I've already mentioned, the week's high score was 204.