By admin | August 5, 2014
By Richard Allen
Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart currently sit 17th and 19th respectively in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. And believe it or not, both go into this weekend with a legitimate shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff despite the fact that the two drivers have a combined total of ten top-10 finishes 21 races deep into the season.
So why with five races remaining before the cutoff in Richmond is this their last best chance for making NASCAR’s version of a playoff?
Quite simply, these drivers have not really shown the ability to run up front on any of NASCAR’s more conventional tracks so a road course or a restrictor plate track are all that remain to give them hope. Since the three plate races held on the part of the schedule leading up to the 26th race cutoff for the Chase are already in the books, this weekend’s affair on the Watkins Glen International road course is the last of the non conventional races before the cut is made.
And both Ambrose and Stewart have to be regarded as some sort of favorites coming into Sunday.
Ambrose is a road course specialist who happens to have a full time ride with Richard Petty Motorsports. The former Australian V-8 Super Cars star has won twice on the right and left hand turns at Watkins Glen. He has compiled five top-5 finishes in only six starts on the track located in upstate New York.
But simply finishing in the top-5 won’t be good enough for Ambrose.
Under the new Sprint Cup system, 16 drivers will make the first cut for the Chase. Having a win trumps a position in the standings with no win. Currently, there are eleven drivers who have a win and qualify for the Chase. A total of eight drivers without a win outrank the Aussie in the standings so he is not likely to get in on points.
Ambrose needs a win in the Glen on Sunday if he is to make the 2014 Chase.
Similarly, Stewart also likely has to have a win on Sunday to make the playoff. And a win is entirely possible on the road course for this driver who cut his racing teeth in sprint cars on Midwestern dirt tracks.
Stewart has garnered a total of five victories at WGI in 14 career starts, the last coming in 2009. The driver/owner has also scored seven top-5s here. But like Ambrose, simply posting a top-5 won’t be enough. He is even further behind than his foreign counterpart in terms of his relationship to other drivers without a win.
Both drivers have clearly shown the ability to do what is necessary this weekend. However, there is always the liklihood that a NASCAR race on a road course will come down to fuel strategy. So just being faster than everyone else might not be good enough. It could very likely come down to who can save the most gas during the day.
For better or worse, NASCAR has created a system which allows one good race to negate and entire season of poor results. both of these drivers have a legitimate shot at cancel 21 bad races out with one good run at WGI.
When the leaders of the sport instituted this system, they wanted teams and drivers to take risks. Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart have to do that this Sunday or they will likely be on the championship sidelines during the final ten races of the season.
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