Road courses can reach out and bite

Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch among NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contenders at Watkins Glen International

This weekend at Watkins Glen marks our last road-course race of the season. Naturally, all fingers point to Marcos Ambrose as the favorite and, quite honestly, rightly so. The man has won the last two races there. I think it’s safe to say he will be a man on a mission this weekend.

Now, in all honesty, that could be really good or it could be really bad at a place like Watkins Glen. When I was a crew chief and we were going to a road course, I always used to tell my drivers – “just give me 100 percent. I don’t need 110 percent from you because 110 percent will just get you in trouble at a road course.”

I look for Brad Keselowski to be tough here at The Glen. He’s coming off a sixth-place finish from last Sunday at Pocono, plus we all know about his last-lap battle last year here at Watkins Glen, so Brad is someone I think we need to watch. I also look for Kyle Busch to be a factor.

I think we all better keep our eye on Jeff Gordon, too. He almost won last weekend at Pocono. He’s running really well right now. He seems to have a bounce in his step, and if all that wasn’t enough, we know how great Jeff is at Watkins Glen.

It’s really interesting to me how the approach to road-course racing has evolved even since I retired as a crew chief at the end of 2000. Back then, you could probably name who to watch for at a road course with one hand and still have a finger or two left over.

Those days are over. So are the days of hiring road-course specialists or road-course “ringers,” as they used to be dubbed. Teams and drivers in today’s NASCAR put just as much effort into the road-course events as they do a short track, intermediate track or superspeedway race. They really have ramped up their road-course program.

So just like the other tracks on the circuit, there truly are 12 or 14 drivers who have a legitimate shot at winning Sunday on the road course. I will give you two dark horses to watch for this weekend – Martin Truex Jr., and from what I heard about his testing there, AJ Allmendinger was bad, bad fast there.

We know how much AJ would love to win, plus Martin really needs that second win for his 2013 Chase hopes, because he dropped two more spots to 14th in the points coming out of Pocono. AJ won a Nationwide Series road-course event already this year, and naturally Martin won at Sonoma. So those are two to keep an eye on. Again, though, if I was either’s crew chief, I would be telling them all week, “just give me 100 percent because 110 percent will get you in trouble on a road course.”

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