So this is it. It has to be.
Marcos Ambrose is having a horrible NASCAR Sprint Cup season by his standards. His replacement-level Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) of 0.738 is the third-worst of his career, on track to be his first sub-par results-getting season in four years. The struggle, slump, or off year — whatever you prefer to call it — isn’t totally a career death knell or a sign of decline. Regression is natural in sport, and that is what has happened to the 36-year-old Richard Petty Motorsports driver in 2013.
The timing, however, is brutal.
Ambrose isn’t guaranteed a return to RPM after this season and a poor final impression won’t do wonders for his job prospects. If the season concluded today, it is likely his next NASCAR contract wouldn’t look as appealing as his current one does. His destiny could all change this weekend. Frankly, it has to.
2.0 Ambrose has a career average finish of second in five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen International.
With a Glen-specific PEER (a measure of drivers’ performance in equal equipment) of 10.000, Ambrose is arguably better on the New York road course than any driver on any other track in the series. With this level of dazzling production ability comes dizzying expectations. Ambrose hasn’t finished lower than third at Watkins Glen and was a winner in the last two Cup Series events there. He has three NASCAR Nationwide Series victories to his credit at the track. He’s so good there that anything less than a win on Sunday — and yes, racing is a team sport, but it’s often not viewed that way, even within the industry — is a failure. He should win this race. It’s ironic that, for Ambrose, even winning provides a no-win situation, but in the instance he isn’t victorious, it could have a tremendous effect on his next contract and immediate future in the sport.
26.5 On laps led per race basis, Kyle Busch is the runaway leader at Watkins Glen in the CoT/Gen-6 era.
Busch, a winner at WGI in 2008, has led 159 laps in the last six races. That mark nearly doubles the next-best number by Juan Pablo Montoya (13.5), and even trumps Ambrose (9.2). That Busch leads laps by the barrel full isn’t a surprise, but his name isn’t one that conjures images of elite road course-racing talent. Something about Watkins Glen clicks for him, though, and he wasn’t far away from a win in last year’s race before the epic slip-and-slide conclusion.
4.5 Montoya’s average finish in completed races dating back to 2007 is 4.5.
I offer the completed race average finish because this span of outings is bookended by crashes that affect the normal average. He won the pole last year, but was caught in a crash that ended his day on lap 63. Montoya, especially this season with a top 15 efficiency — the difference of percentage of races finished in the top 15 and the percentage of laps run in the top 15 — of -18.6 percent, is an aggressive sort. While it’s thrilling for fans, high-octane aggression on road courses doesn’t automatically win races. Some semblance of composure and nifty pit strategy would be the likely key to scoring his first Glen win since 2010.
5.417 Keselowski ranks third in PEER at Watkins Glen with a 5.417 rating.
What that number indicates is that Keselowski, albeit in a small three-race sample size, has been stalwart on this particular road course. He doesn’t have a win to his name, at least not yet, which can also be said about his 2013 season. If you were looking for an irregular face on road courses to breakthrough with a win, you would be best served to look no further than the 2012 series champ. He finished second in each of the last two years’ events at Watkins Glen and his 20th-place finish in his maiden Cup visit (2010) was a showing in which he ranked seventh in the race in NASCAR’s “fastest laps” tally.
14.4 Ron Fellows has an average finish of 23.2, a wildly inconsistent number per his 14.4 finish deviation, in five Watkins Glen races dating back to 2007.
The Canadian road racing legend is, according to PEER, the top “road course ringer” at the Glen going into the weekend; however, his entry in the No. 33 Circle Sport car isn’t attractive for those hoping for an upset victory. That’s been the primary issue with the ringers of late; their cars aren’t prime equipment, which often leads to overdriving and aggressive choices that don’t typically sit well with the regular Cup Series drivers. Compared to the likes of Boris Said and Robby Gordon, Fellows’s participation has been innocuous, but a driver can only take so much when limited by an imperfect race car.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at@DavidSmithMA.
Photo byAction Sports, Inc.