Spin the Black Circle: Centurion Boats at The Glen
That Robby Gordon sure is a kick in the teeth, huh?
I mean, the lesser-known Gordon isn't the first guy to get ultrapeeved on a racetrack, as he did during the Busch Series road race up in Montreal this past week. He's not the first guy to zoom to the back bumper of someone who has just done him wrong and spin said offender out. He's not the first guy to flip the metaphorical bird at NASCAR officials for black-flagging him.
But I daresay Gordon just might be the first guy to do victory burnouts side-by-side with the actual race winner, in this case Kevin Harvick.
That was one of the funniest sports scenes of 2007 up in Mount Royal on Saturday. There was Harvick, surprised to take this particular Busch win, thrilled to pieces, whooping it up over his headset and smoking his tires just past the finish line. And there was Robby, right alongside Harvick, playing Calvin to Harvick's Hobbes, creating some rubber smoke of his own. It was the synchronized-swimming version of Victory Lane.
Fortunately for the fantasy player, Robby Gordon was suspended for last week's Nextel Cup event in Pocono rather than this week at Watkins Glen, where he'll be a threat to win the race outright. Of course, any more 13th-place donuts for Gordon, and the next time you'll see him driving, you'll be on a limo booze cruise around Las Vegas. Boy, that would be a fun ride.
Anyway, let's take a look at the drivers who'll make the best fantasy plays this week at the Glen.
"Given To Fly" (Featured Elite Drivers)
(Last week: Tony Stewart, 6th; Denny Hamlin, 3rd.)
I know I keep going back to the Stewart well, but this guy's so streaky he makes Bobby Abreu look like Lou Gehrig. When it's going good for Smoke, it's going good. He followed up his consecutive wins with a sixth-place Pocono finish last week, and his recent record at Watkins Glen is ridiculous. In his past five events here, he has three wins, last year's second and an 11th. And he has finished worse than 11th here only once in eight races. This particular road course is less technical than Sonoma. It's more about aggression and muscling one's car around a few key turns where you can pass, and nobody's better driving with his hair on fire than Stewart.
Harvick's another very aggressive driver suited to Watkins Glen. He won here last year with a dramatic late pass of Stewart, and after those two got together toward the end of the Brickyard a couple of weeks back, wouldn't it be fun to seem them tangle late at the Glen? As I mentioned earlier, Happy won in Montreal by default (although Marcos Ambrose certainly would have won without Robby's shenanigans), but he still had a very fine car and put up a good performance. Harvick finished just 15th here in 2005, but posted finishes of fifth and sixth the two seasons before that. A good, solid top-10 feels almost like a given.
"Rearviewmirror" (Midrange Drivers of Note)
(Last week: Casey Mears, 10th; Juan Pablo Montoya, 16th)
Yeah, that's right, I'm taking Robby Gordon. Whether he qualifies as "midrange" or "sleeper" depends on the game you play, but there's little question that when the Smokeless Set heads to Sonoma or Watkins Glen, Robby turns into a favorite. That's terrific news for you because you get an "elite" driver at markdown prices. Gordon has won a race here, in 2003, has four top-4 finishes in his past five tries at this track, and has finished fourth or better six times in his eight Cup events at Watkins Glen. Can something mechanical go wrong with his car? Of course. But with the microscope squarely on his J-Lo-style temper and the good folks on our ESPN broadcast invoking the Montreal race time after time, I've a feeling Gordon will be on his best behavior, which might not mean a win, but a top-5 feels right.
Montoya is another guy whose regular performances at your left-turn-only tracks typically border on mediocrity but whose road course pedigree elevates him to favorite this weekend. Montoya, of course, won at Sonoma back in June, and although he did it on fuel strategy and not because he had the best car, his Formula One background gives him chops. Remember also that Montoya won the other stock car road race he entered this year, the Busch event down in Mexico City. This will be his first Cup event at the Glen, and maneuvering these dump trucks over such a tough and demanding track will be difficult, but Montoya should post an exceedingly fantasy-worthy finish.
"Not For You" (Beware of these Drivers)
(Last week: Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2nd. Oops.)
As I said last week, this section of STBC is devoted to finding the guys who, statistically speaking, don't excel on the present week's track and/or track style. Last week, I said Junior often struggles at Pocono, which is true, but the No. 8 came back impressively this past weekend, and now I look silly. Oh well. This week should be a little easier because there are any number of top-10 regulars who tend to struggle on road courses. Matt Kenseth, for example, would be someone to avoid this week. It's not as though he can't do well here; Kenseth has two top-10 finishes in his seven Glen races. Rather, it's just that he's far less likely to perform well here than several other drivers, as well as far less likely to excel on a road course than at a more traditional oval, where he's one of the best. Fantasy is about maximizing your odds, and the odds say avoid Kenseth this week.
"Nothing As It Seems" (Weekly Sleepers)
(Last week: Brian Vickers, 29th; Reed Sorenson, 28th)
It's not hard to find inexpensive fantasy drivers likely to perform well on road courses. Let's talk about two of the several "road course ringers" who'll attempt to qualify for Sunday's race. These guys are brought in twice a year to participate at Sonoma and Watkins Glen and get their teams some much-needed owners' points. If they do qualify (and they should, provided qualifying isn't rained out), they're threats to win. I'm disappointed to learn Scott Pruett won't be entered in Sunday's race (that was news to me), so instead my first ringer is Ron Fellows, who'll pilot the No. 96, usually Tony Raines' ride. Fellows doesn't have a great Cup record at the Glen, having finished 22nd or worse (often much worse) in seven of his nine tries. But the other two finishes were second places, and they're far more indicative of his skill. He often has been the victim of pretty bad luck here.
Finally, check out ESPN's own Boris Said, who'll pilot the No. 60 car and will have to qualify on time. Said traditionally is better at Sonoma, a course he runs more frequently, but he has posted finishes of third and eighth in his six Cup races at the Glen. If he keeps his car clean, doesn't push the limit and avoids a breakdown, Said should give you a return on your fantasy investment that'll far outstrip many better-known Nextel Cup names.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.