Why It’s Highly Unlikely We’ll See a Wild Card Winner Two Weeks in a Row

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By Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor

Everyone loves an underdog. Interspersed amongst the Jimmie Johnsons, the Richard Pettys, and the Kyle Busches, are the Landon Cassills, the David Ragans …

… the Chris Bueschers.

Buescher’s win, though the result of some of the most unique circumstances seen in this sport in a long while, was immensely popular. Fog or no fog, rain or no rain, Buescher earned it fair and square and, in the process, shook up the Chase grid more than even the most seasoned of NASCAR analysts could have possibly predicted.

Now we’ll be watching the 30th-place cutoff line just as closely as we watch the 16th-place Chase cutoff point, given that Buescher still has to finish in the top 30 in points in the regular season to cash in his Pocono victory for a Chase berth.

Pocono wasn’t supposed to be the wild card. After the race at Daytona International Speedway in July, there were two races left in the regular season that people were looking at to possibly produce some surprise – or underdog – drivers in the Chase: the two road courses, Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

Tony Stewart halfway fulfilled that prophecy, winning the race at Sonoma after missing the first eight events of the season due to an injury. Granted a medical waiver by NASCAR, Stewart satisfied one of two requirements by winning a race and eventually made his way into the top 30 in points.

Now fresh off a Pocono race where a driver whose average finish this year is 27th finagled his way into Victory Lane, everyone is looking ahead to the track that was actually supposed to do the exact same thing: Watkins Glen.

The bad news is that the “new” or “underdog” winner might be a little bit oversold for this weekend’s race. AJ Allmendinger is being billed as this weekend’s biggest potential for an upset but, really, that’s about it.

Stewart has five career victories at the track and, again, won NASCAR’s other road course race this season. Jeff Gordon has four career victories at Watkins Glen and is returning to the track once again this weekend while subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

However, it’s not just those two you will have to watch out for this weekend. Joey Logano won last year at The Glen. Kurt Busch has finished in the top five in the last two races, and in the top 10 the last three. Kyle Busch won at this track back in 2013 and finished second last year. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards all have good statistics here.

In other words, pretty much the same drivers that have been up front and in contention all season long.

Which makes Allmendinger’s – or any other driver’s – task of serving the underdog role even more difficult.

That’s not to take away from Allmendinger’s ability. In fact, he should be on the list of every “drivers to watch this weekend” list based on his statistics alone. He won his first career Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen in 2014 and has only one finish worse than 13th in his seven starts at the track.

Could Allmendinger win this week?

Could another underdog winner steal the win this weekend, through fuel mileage or another means?

Well … SURE!

But underdogs are supposed to win at Daytona. Denny Hamlin won in February and Keselowski in July. Not exactly underdogs. Underdogs are supposed to win in Talladega, and Keselowski won there too.

Underdogs are supposed to win at road courses. Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, won there earlier this year.

Veterans are supposed to win at Pocono. Buescher won instead.

In all reality, a repeat winner is way more likely than someone swooping in and stealing a victory. The statistics support it, both this season and in past races at The Glen.

However, I will leave you with this. While it’s going to be difficult for Allmendinger as the favorite to beat the week-to-week heavy hitters, those drivers hovering around the 14th to 15th range in points also need to use this as a potential springboard into the Chase. One more new winner could put a hurting on many of those banging on the door or hanging on for dear life. Yes it’s unlikely, but there are many bubble drivers who can’t afford for that to happen. The best way for them to keep that from happening is to make it happen themselves.

They may not succeed, but it sure as heck is going to be exciting watching them try.

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