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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072890 Road hazard Road+hazard+ NASCAR

Watkins Glen International is a fast road course, a place where anything can and often does happen.

This weekend, NASCAR drivers make their annual trek to the 2.45-mile winding track. It’s not just the nature of road-course racing that will make headlines this weekend, though.

Drivers are operating under an increasing level of pressure as the battle for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup heats up, the course offers unique challenges and the season heads into its 22nd points race.

All of that has the makings for an angst-riddled weekend at the track. The intensity reached a new level Sunday when rains forced the race to be delayed until Monday, giving teams and drivers more time to think about strategy -- and everything that can happen in a road-course race.

With so much going on, it might be hard to keep up. Don’t worry, here are 10 storylines that bear watching closely this weekend.
 

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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072891 Stewart’s playground Stewart%26rsquo%3Bs+playground NASCAR

Tony Stewart is stellar at a lot of tracks in NASCAR, but this weekend he heads to one of his best. The timing is perfect, too. Stewart currently sits ninth in the Sprint Cup standings — a spot that will put him in the Chase field five races down the road if he holds onto it. A win at Watkins Glen could certainly offer him a little more breathing room. How are his chances? Stewart has finished no worse than second in six consecutive races at the track. He has five career Cup wins at Watkins Glen, a series best.

John Harrelson - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/06/120484064_20110806132139388_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/06/120484064_20110806132139388_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072892 Doubling the effort Doubling+the+effort NASCAR

Brad Keselowski stunned the NASCAR field with his gutsy win last weekend, taking the victory at Pocono Raceway while competing with a broken ankle. Now he takes on another tough challenge, running a full road-course race with that injured ankle. Keselowski has shown he has the grit and determination to do just that. He’s also taken over the battle for one of the two wild-card spots, those available to drivers 11th through 20th in the standings with the most wins or highest points standing, with his pair of victories this season. What will he do this Sunday? It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072895 Wild times Wild+times NASCAR

NASCAR certainly added a layer of excitement to the race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season. A pair of wild-card spots will be available to drivers with wins that are 11th through 20th in the points standings. The driver with the most wins in that group takes the lead for those spots, with drivers with equal numbers of wins being ranked in order of their points position. For a slate of single-race winners this season, that has been a game changer. Denny Hamlin is currently outside the top 10 in the standings and has a win. Paul Menard (pictured) and David Ragan are also in that battle for a spot. Brad Keselowski has two wins to take the edge among the group. Anyone else who wins in the next five races joins that battle. Should make these coming races fun.

Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery3-JW_2011081215235121_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery3-JW_2011081215235121_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072896 Battle ground Battle+ground NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a fan favorite and driver trying to get back among the sport’s elite on a week-to-week basis. Making the Chase for the Sprint Cup would certainly go a long way toward that goal. Right now he’s in the group that would make the Chase, but not by much. He is 10th in the standings with a 23-point edge over Denny Hamlin, who is 11th. And he is winless this season. Earnhardt Jr. would like to change both of those, but Watkins Glen isn’t his best track. In 11 starts at the track, he has three top-10 finishes, two of them top fives, and an average finish of 22.9. He’s certainly hoping to improve on that this weekend.

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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072897 Spin control Spin+control NASCAR

The season is starting to wear on some competitors, and road-course racing just doesn’t help that at all. Since the advent of the double-file restart, road-course races have become some of the most hotly contested on the circuit. Drivers spin off course at somewhat regular intervals, get caught up in crashes and sometimes jump out of their cars and converse right after an incident. It’s sheer madness at times — as Denny Hamlin (pictured) found out last year — and a reason drivers head into this race with a bit of the feeling that much can happen that is beyond their control.

Kevin Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery5-JW_2011081215253723_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery5-JW_2011081215253723_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072898 Back on top? Back+on+top%3F+ NASCAR

Juan Pablo Montoya and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team certainly have not enjoyed the kind of season they envisioned in January. Now comes a chance to salvage some of it. Montoya is an ace on road courses and is generally a threat to win on these tracks. Montoya has two career NASCAR Cup victories, one at each of the road courses on the schedule. Can he add to that this weekend?

Geoff Burke - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/06/120493394_20110806153150808_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/06/120493394_20110806153150808_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072899 First timer? First+timer%3F+ NASCAR

Marcos Ambrose has been a threat on NASCAR’s road courses since he began racing on them. He has three wins in four Nationwide races at Watkins Glen. He has finished no worse than third in three Cup races at the track. Now, he’s looking for his first Cup win. This is certainly a place where he can pull off the victory — and add yet another first-time winner to NASCAR’s growing list of Victory Lane newcomers this season.
 

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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072902 We’re not happy We%26rsquo%3Bre+not+happy NASCAR

The season is wearing long — and wearing thin — on drivers across the sport. The latest to deal with a brewing feud just happen to be championship contenders. Jimmie Johnson (left) and Kurt Busch (far right) verbally sparred after last Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway over the way they raced one another in the closing laps. As the weekend started at Watkins Glen, the feathers still seemed a little ruffled. And then there’s Tony Stewart, who has declared war on blocking and now heads into a race where it’s almost certain to come into play once more. Will emotions overflow between these, or any of the others on a lengthy list of drivers displeased with someone, this weekend?

Matt Slocum - AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery8-JW_2011081215293125_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/08/12/_081211-NASCAR-Top-10-Storylines-Gallery8-JW_2011081215293125_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072903 Can’t get enough! Can%26rsquo%3Bt+get+enough%21+ NASCAR

Several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are not only adding the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen to their weekend schedules, but some are even taking on the Grand-Am Series race at the track as well. David Ragan, Joey Logano and Andy Lally are among those who will be adding the sports-car race to their schedules. Logano is actually running all three events this weekend. Will those help the drivers gain an edge?

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NASCAR 167 43 Top NASCAR storylines at Watkins Glen International 30072904 Top gun Top+gun NASCAR

Carl Edwards heads into the race leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and seeking his first career Cup victory on a road course. He has five top-10 finishes in six races at Watkins Glen. In addition, he has a road-course win in the Nationwide Series on the road course in Montreal. Edwards enters the weekend with a nine-point edge over Jimmie Johnson in the standings — and hoping to build on that as the Chase nears.

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