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NASCAR At Watkins Glen: Five-Time Winner Tony Stewart Seeks First Triumph Of 2011

For the second and final time in 2011, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making right turns this weekend, as the circuit hits the picturesque Watkins Glen International circuit in upstate New York. And while many drivers have upped their game on the road courses, one driver stands above the rest as the favorite any time the stars of stock car racing head to the Finger Lakes region.

Tony Stewart heads into this weekend's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen without a win this season. He last visited victory lane last October at the Auto Club Speedway. Still, if Stewart is going to break through in 2011, there is probably no more likely venue for him to do so than The Glen, where he has won a track-record five times.

Each of Stewart's wins have had a story behind them. In 2002, he overcame a tumultuous week that nearly saw him fired as driver of Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car - as well as becoming the first and to date only driver to be publicly fined by his own sponsor after punching a photographer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway - with his third win of what proved to be his first championship season. In 2004, he drove through a stomach virus and a mid-race "accident" inside his car to beat road-racing ace Ron Fellows. His 2005 victory capped perhaps the strongest stretch of Stewart's racing career, as it was his fifth win in his past seven races, and again came during a title season.

In 2007, Stewart spun just past the race's halfway mark while leading. He worked his way back to the front of the field and was chasing Jeff Gordon for the lead when Gordon spun in the exact same spot with less than two laps to go. That fourth victory tied Gordon's track record (1997-1999, 2001), a record Stewart claimed as his own with his August 2009 victory. That record-setting triumph was his third points-paying win as driver and owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

If Stewart is going to break through Sunday, two drivers stand out as his chief threats: Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose. They ran one-two for most of this race last year and figure to be in contention again this season.

Montoya, the defending race champion, has been in contention to win nearly every one of his road course starts since joining the Sprint Cup Series in 2007. His background in open-wheel cars - championships in F3000 and the road-course dominated CART series, as well as seven Formula 1 wins from 2001-2006 - have made his successes no surprise.

Ambrose, meanwhile, enters Sunday's event still seeking his first Sprint Cup victory. Watkins Glen could be the likely venue, as he has won the Nationwide Series race there the last three seasons in a row. Like Montoya, the native of Tasmania has a road racing background with a pair championships in Australia's V8 Supercar series. He was the Colombian's chief threat in last year's event until fading late and losing second place to Kurt Busch.

Busch, the winner at Sonoma earlier this year, will be another contender, as will his younger brother Kyle, who swept the road course races in 2008.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, it could be Sunday's race at Watkins Glen that proves to be the defining factor. Road racing has never been his forte, despite a win at the Glen in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series in 1999. He has finished 18th or worse in his last five starts at the Glen, including three finishes of 26th or worse.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.