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Fantasy NASCAR Rankings: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen
When the green flag waves at Watkins Glen Sunday, two of the best road racers in NASCAR will lead the field into Turn 1. Jeff Gordon won the pole for the Cheez-It 355, and his road course resume includes a series-leading nine victories, including four at Watkins Glen. Marcos Ambrose will join him on the front row, and in 13 career road course starts in the Cup Series, he has posted 11 top-10s, including wins at The Glen in 2011 and 2012. Road racing is one of the tougher skills for NASCAR drivers to master, and two of the best in the business are starting up front this weekend.
Gordon and Ambrose aren't the only proven road course winners starting near the front. All five drivers that qualified in the top five have at least one road course win under their belts. Meanwhile, the last four races at Watkins Glen have been won by drivers starting in the top five, and overall, 18 of the 28 races at the track have been one from a top-five starting spot. Meanwhile, no driver has ever won a race at The Glen after qualifying outside the top 20.
Ambrose has been living up to his reputation as one of the top road racers in the series, and he jumps into the top spot in the final rankings. He ranked fifth and second in the two practice sessions, and he qualified on the front row. He also won at Watkins Glen in both 2011 and 2012, and in six total starts, he has five finishes of third or better. Ambrose has been a contender for the victory in ever start he has made at The Glen, and that doesn't look like it will change this weekend.
He turned the third-fastest lap in the first practice session Friday, and Keselowski followed up his strong showing in practice with a top-10 effort in qualifying. Of course, strong runs have been the norm for Keselowski at Watkins Glen, and he enters Sunday's race with three straight second-place finishes at the track. During the stretch, he has scored the second-most points of any driver and led the third-most laps. Expect Keselowski to be a serious threat for the win and an elite fantasy option again Sunday.
3) Kyle Busch
The defending race winner looks poised for another strong run after cracking the top 10 in both practice sessions Friday. In addition to his victory last year, Busch led the most laps in 2012 event and has eight straight top-10s at Watkins Glen overall. During the streak, he has a 5.0 average finish at the road course. Fantasy owners should feel very comfortable using Busch as the centerpiece of their lineup in any format this weekend.
He is barely a top-20 option most weeks, but Allmendinger's road racing skills are legit, and he has been proving it all weekend long. After ranking fourth on the charts in the first practice Friday, he topped the charts in Happy Hour. He turned the sixth-fastest lap during qualifying. In five starts at Watkins Glen, Allmendinger has never finished outside the top 15, and he has finished in the top 10 in his last three starts at the track. He has top-five potential this weekend and can make a strong addition in any format.
11) Joey Logano
Logano doesn't have the reputation of being a great road racer, but he did finish seventh at Watkins Glen in his first start at the track with Team Penske last year, and it appears he is picking up where he left off. He ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in the two practice sessions Friday, and he also qualified 11th. Logano could be a sneaky top-10 pick this weekend.
14) Jamie McMurray
He has shown consistent speed all weekend, cracking the top 15 in both practice session and qualifying in the top 15. McMurray has also been building a little momentum at the road courses, finishing 11th at Watkins Glen last year and finishing fourth at Sonoma earlier this year. He appears to have a car capable of cracking the top 15 Sunday, and McMurray could make a solid complementary piece to fantasy lineups in just about any format.
24) Casey Mears
Mears has quietly been one of the steadiest performers at road courses in recent years, and has been up to his old tricks at Watkins Glen. He ranked 16th in the first practice and 13th in Happy Hour before qualifying 22nd Saturday. Meanwhile, Mears brings a six-race streak of top-20 finishes at The Glen into Sunday's race. He also finished in the top 15 in the first road course race of the year at Sonoma earlier this year, and Mears could provide similar value this weekend.
Big names outside the top 10
17) Matt Kenseth
Road racing has never been his forte, and Kenseth has failed to impress so far at Watkins Glen. He ranked 20th in the first practice of the weekend, and he fell to 29th on the charts in Happy Hour. Kenseth did manage to qualify in the top 10, but in 14 career starts at the track, he has never had a top-five finish. Meanwhile, he has managed just one top-10 in the last nine races. A top-15 is probably the best case scenario.
18) Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has been one the stranger cases at Watkins Glen. After beginning his career with four straight top-10s at the track, he has compiled a 31.5 average finish in his last four starts. Based on the lack of speed he has shown this weekend, Hamlin's slump at The Glen could continue. He failed to crack the top 20 in either practice, and he ranked outside the top 30 in Happy Hour. Hamlin is starting 18th Sunday, and it's hard to be optimistic about his chances.
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