Watkins Glen Wrap: Stewart keeps rolling
Sunday's race at Watkins Glen was filled with high drama, one week after a less-than-thrilling event at Pocono. Although it might look as though Tony Stewart ultimately lucked into the win, he certainly had a winning car. Jeff Gordon appeared overdue and destined for a victory before he surprisingly spun out with two laps to go.
Stewart has grabbed most of the headlines recently, winning three of the past four races after an up-and-down start to the season. Gordon, by contrast, has been the ultimate picture of consistency. He earned his 20th top-10 in the season's 22nd race Sunday, even after seeing his fifth win of the year slip away. Stewart has been dominant of late, but Gordon has run up front all year long, and his overall results this year would make me feel more comfortable having Gordon than Stewart the rest of the way. Gordon has 14 top-5 finishes in 2007, twice as many as Stewart.
Many fantasy leagues seemingly will come down to a two-driver race now. Those who own Stewart and Gordon appear headed for a battle for the top spot. In salary-cap-style leagues, there seems to be no way you can contend without Stewart or Gordon on your roster. Stewart has been hot, and Gordon has been ultradependable. Yet they aren't the only ingredients in your championship formula.
Ultimately, winning your league title will come down to which drivers you surround Stewart or Gordon with. If you can put Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. or Carl Edwards in your second lineup slot the rest of the schedule, you'll have an excellent shot at winning your league title. The true test of your mettle will be filling those other spots on your roster for respectable finishes. Getting quality spot starts from less reliable guys such as Casey Mears and Jamie McMurray can help you in a tight race for your league title. Getting top-20 finishes out of drivers such as J.J. Yeley and Paul Menard also can be very helpful.
Here's my top-5 "lesser" guys who truly can push you to fantasy glory in 2007 as key complements to Stewart and Gordon.
Kurt Busch: He has finished 11th or better in each of the past five races, and he looks as though he's getting better as the year progresses. Busch is going to lock himself into the Chase for the Cup and will be one of the top contenders for the title behind Stewart and Gordon. His win at Pocono was the beginning of a strong second-half run.
Clint Bowyer: He has 11 top-10 finishes and has finished 16th or better in each of the past five races. Bowyer has an average finish of 15.2 this season, and I believe you are going to see him take his first career Nextel Cup victory very soon.
Greg Biffle: He's going to miss the Chase, but he has been putting better runs together recently and will continue to run up front very often as he looks ahead to next season. Biffle came through with his sixth top-10 finish of the season Sunday, and he has placed in the top 15 in four of the past five races.
Jamie McMurray: He has endured some rough luck since winning at Daytona, and his day at Pocono might have been his ugliest ever. McMurray does have seven top-10s and a pole this year, though, and I believe a string of rebound performances is just around the corner.
Paul Menard: He's the one guy I really like as that final "bargain" driver to deliver decent finishes the rest of the way. Menard has a pair of top-20 finishes in the past three races, and you'll see him run near the top 15 more often in the weeks ahead.
Jimmie Johnson is quietly starting to build some positive momentum again, and his owners certainly still have hope they can contend with the Stewart and Gordon owners in their leagues. Johnson scored his second consecutive top-5 finish at Watkins Glen, and his four wins still put him tied atop the Chase field if it were to begin today.
Matt Kenseth has six consecutive top-15 finishes but hasn't been a true contender for a win recently. Kenseth has been good this year, but he doesn't look good enough to take fantasy owners to a championship.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.