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Bodog Sportsbook: Watkins Glen Gambling Preview

Racing at the Glen

This Sunday, 43 NASCAR drivers will have to do something most of them aren’t used to: make a right turn. They’ll be at Watkins Glen for the second of just two road races on the Sprint Cup circuit, the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen.

That means the NASCAR odds are skewed toward those drivers who have experience in IRL/Champ Car, Formula 1, and anywhere else with winding courses.

Step right up, Marcos Ambrose. The Australian native has won two races on the Nationwide Series since joining the circuit in 2007 – both at Watkins Glen. Ambrose is the 7-2 favorite to earn his maiden Sprint Cup victory; he finished third in 2008 driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, then improved to second last year in the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Toyota, which he’ll pilot on Sunday.

Ambrose is pretty chalky for someone without a Cup win under his belt, but he definitely has the right background. The 33-year-old got his start in go-kart racing before making the leap to Formula Ford in 1996. Ambrose spent a couple of years in Formula Three, then went on to dominate the Australian V8 Supercar series in 2003 and 2004. He was No. 3 in the 2006 Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year standings and No. 2 to David Ragan on the Nationwide Series the following year.

Coming up in Ambrose’s rearview mirror is Tony Stewart, the second favorite on the NASCAR betting market at 4-1. Stewart has yet to win any races this year after taking the checkered flag four times in 2009, including his fifth victory at Watkins Glen in 11 attempts. Yes, five out of 11. But why is Stewart second to Ambrose on the odds list? Personality might have something to do with it. Ambrose is one of the most congenial drivers on the circuit, gaining in popularity by the second. The outspoken Stewart, meanwhile, was once called the “Rosie O’Donnell of NASCAR” by four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Gordon is tied with Juan Pablo Montoya for third favorite status at 8-1. Montoya is a trendy choice whenever a road race comes up on the schedule; he’s a former champion in both Formula 3000 and CART, with seven victories in 94 starts on the Formula 1 circuit. However, Montoya’s first Cup victory was also his last: the 2007 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. The quiet but affable Colombian crashed at Watkins Glen in 2007 before finishing fourth in 2008 and sixth last year.

Gordon, on the other hand, is one of the most accomplished road racers in Sprint Cup history. He’s taken first place at Watkins Glen four times; however, the most recent win was in 2001. Gordon has placed in the Top 10 just once since then. Not only that, Gordon has just one victory anywhere on the Cup circuit these past three years, coming at the 2009 Samsung 500 at Fort Worth. Dipping into your wallet for Gordon is an act of faith at this point.

The same is true if you’re looking for betting value among the “road ringers” that pop up at Watkins Glen. Boris Said (25-1) and Max Papis (now running full-time at 75-1) both have road racing experience, but neither has parlayed that into a Cup victory – in fact, no road ringer has won a Cup race since Mark Donohue in 1973. Said and Papis will be contending for a valuable Top-10 finish, which Papis earned last year at the Glen by finishing eighth. Valuable for them, but not of much use for handicapping purposes.

The top tier of betting favorites this Sunday is rounded out by a pair of familiar faces: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, who has a pair of victories this year, and four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, each pegged at 17-2. Johnson is tied with Denny Hamlin (18-1 this week) with five points race wins apiece. All three of these men regularly finish in the Top 10 at the Glen, but only Busch has taken the checkered flag there, just two years ago. Hamlin has some value at these odds, while Busch is a proven commodity on this track and is definitely a better bet than Gordon or Montoya. Can anyone beat Stewart, though? We’ll see this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

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