Cheez It 355 Picks

Race: Cheez-It 355 at the Glen
Date: Sunday August 11, 2013
Track: Watkins Glen International
Time: 1 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, Auto Racing Handicapper

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I’ll be honest. I’m not really a fan of Pocono, but Sunday’s race was actually pretty darn good! There were multiple cautions throughout the race because of predominately tire issues. Many good drivers saw their days end early because of blown tires or just all-around loose race cars. Those were the major complaints of the day. Kasey Kahne had none of those complaints, though, as he raced he way to the front, stayed there, and took the checkers ahead of 2nd place finisher Jeff Gordon. Gordon almost had the race won after passing Kahne on a restart until Matt Kenseth spun out late, allowing Kahne to pass Gordon on the last restart. Despite the pass, Gordon had a strong race and moved up a position in the points, which he needed to do. A win would’ve helped his chances in terms of a wild card spot should it come down to that for him.

Regardless, Gordon is in the top 10 sitting pretty right now, and Watkins Glen this weekend should do nothing but help him some more in the standings. The major loser this weekend is going to be Tony Stewart. If you haven’t heard yet, Stewart broke his leg on a Monday night sprint car race where he was wrecked with 5 laps to go. He suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg. That’s definitely going to put a huge damper on his Chase berth. With him sitting on the wild card spot, Stewart has been making slow gains in his Chase hopes. He has managed to move up to the number 1 wild card pick after a rather dismal start to his season. Watkins Glen is a great track for him, but he will be sitting it out as of right now. There has been no replacement driver named as of yet, but we will have to wait and see who the choice is to keep the car at least in the points.

Watkins Glen is another great track that breaks up the monotony of oval racing. This road course is an 11 turn 2.45 mile track with banking ranging from 6 to 10 degrees throughout the track. The hairpin turns always make for good spots to pass (or wreck) and always make for an exciting race. This is one of those tracks where bumping and moving drivers is pretty acceptable. You will see rougher driving than normal because the speeds aren’t as incredible as an oval, but the guys force their positions throughout different points on the track. Keys to this track are clearly track position and tires. Track position places a huge role because the leader in clean air can jump seconds ahead of the rest of the field. More importantly, it keeps that driver out of the gaggle of cars generally prone to wrecks and spin-outs mid-pack at road courses. Tires are huge here also. We see a lot of wear and tear because of the degree to which these drivers are using their equipment. They are turning right and left, which may sound dumb, but the setup on these cars this weekend is drastically different than usual. The brakes are going to be used a huge amount as well. We are going to see red rotors and crazy amounts of brake dust on pit stops. Brake failure is always a potential here.

When we look at potential winners here, we have to note history. This is a track with a niche. You are either good here or you’re not. That explains a lot about drivers and why they love or hate this track or would love to add more or take away road courses. Notably great drivers here include Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch. Busch isn’t necessarily the greatest road course driver, but his attitude says a lot about how a road course has to be driven. Patience is important but only to a certain degree. Kyle Busch is able to forcefully get where he wants to be, generally without getting in too much trouble. Some other guys to watch are going to be those who enter this one race a year. These guys are specialists on road courses. These are going to be the drivers like Boris Said. They are simply awesome at road course racing. Here’s the rundown of your potential winners this weekend:

Winner: Jeff Gordon
Middle of the Road Pick: Juan Pablo Montoya
Dark Horse Prediction: Marcos Ambrose

Ambrose is actually the defending champ of the last 2 years here. He comes from Aussie racing where road courses are plentiful and he really knows what he’s doing. Juan Pablo comes from an Indy background and has won here as well, so he knows how to drive this course. Jeff Gordon has 4 wins here, albeit it’s been several years. He always runs strong though and is always a contender. With inching so close to a win last weekend, I really think that he’s going to push hard this week for the checkers. He was very disappointed that Kahne “flat out drove” him going into turn 1 allowing Kahne to take away Gordon’s shot at a win. I think that may be enough of a push to get him to be a bit more aggressive and back to the days of older Gordon where he wasn’t afraid to put drivers in their place on these road courses. Tony Stewart would’ve been a great pick, but we aren’t going to see him this weekend, and there’s a good possibility it’s going to be several weeks if we even see him back in a car at all this season. We are going to have to wait to see the extent of his injuries and his prognosis before we can make any determinations on the rest of his season.

Pocono helped a few and hurt a few. Here are your current top 12 in the points after Sunday’s 400:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Carl Edwards
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
6. Kyle Busch
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Greg Biffle
11. Tony Stewart
12. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski moved into 12th position, but he needs a win. He’s got to do something in these last few races to put himself in a position for the Chase, whether that’s moving into the top 10 or getting a win to ensure a wild card spot. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne both moved up 1 position each while Biffle dropped 2 spots and Matt Kenseth dropped one. I really think that this weekend, we are going to see a little more of a shake up in the points because this track is a disaster for some guys. We’ll have to wait and see how these guys navigate the road course and how it all shapes up on Sunday afternoon. Stay tuned for a great weekend of racing!