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Watkins Glen Preview: Drivers Ready to Pounce on Opportunity Created by Tony Stewart’s Absence

Marcos Ambrose the Favorite Entering This Weekend's Event, but Don't Count Out Max Papis

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COMMENTARY | Things just got really interesting in the race for the Chase.

As disappointing as it is that Tony Stewart will not be a part of this weekend's road course race at Watkins Glen International following his accident in a sprint car on Monday, the reality is there is still a race to be run.

What a royal mess Stewart's injury has created in the battle for the final spots in this year's Chase.

The big picture was just beginning to take shape when BAM, Stewart is out and the field is suddenly wide open once again. I saw odds as high as 90 percent by some that Stewart would make the field, but in one eventful night those odds went right out the window.

The real question mark now is his recovery. Don't forget that this is the time of year Stewart usually has shined the brightest. Now he is left watching from home.

While there are many unknowns regarding Stewart's season, for now, let's move forward like he is out of the picture completely.

The biggest winner in this, without a doubt, is Brad Keselowski. Currently 12th in the standings, the defending Sprint Cup champion will get an automatic boost and will just need to navigate the back of the pack, namely Greg Biffle and a surging Jeff Gordon, to squeeze in. Or, of course, he could just win a race, which would help.

But, of course, nothing is easy in predicting this year's Chase field. From Kahne in 8th to Aric Almirola in 18th, there is only a separation of 58 points.

Biffle (10th) is the driver in the most trouble, with a terrible career average finish at Watkins Glen (23.8) and a grouping of tracks (with the exception of Michigan) leading into the Chase that isn't exactly his cup of tea. Michigan, where he has four career wins, could be his one last shot at securing a position.

Gordon (9th) will get a big boost at Watkins Glen this weekend, which will help cement his odds, while Kahne (8th) has virtually secured a spot with his second win.

Martin Truex Jr. (14th) and Ryan Newman (15th) will also benefit nicely from Stewart's absence as they are currently the only drivers on the bubble with wins. As Stewart slides past them, Truex and Newman will climb up, shifting their focus to Biffle, Keselowski and Kurt Busch as their biggest threats.

Here is who I think slips into this year's Chase as of Pocono:

LAST THREE IN: Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman

LAST THREE OUT: Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano

RACES REMAINING: Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond

As for this weekend's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, there is always a lot of intrigue at the road courses.

Martin Truex Jr. stunned us all with a win at Sonoma in June and has been pretty decent at Watkins Glen throughout his career with four top 10s in seven starts. Add in the motivation of sitting on the Chase bubble, and Truex will most certainly be one to watch.

Of course, you can't talk about Watkins Glen without talking about Marcos Ambrose. The Australian has won the last two races at the Glen and hasn't finished off the podium yet in five career starts.

And don't completely count out Max Papis. The Italian driver has a ton of road racing experience and has a career-high eighth-place finish at Watkins Glen in 2009. With Papis behind the wheel of a top-of-the-line car like Stewart's, I certainly wouldn't sleep on him as a dark horse contender.

Other drivers that have been pretty darn good at the New York road course over the years include Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and, of course, Jeff Gordon, but I simply can't go against the Aussie.

My pick for the win this weekend is … Marcos Ambrose.

The 2013 Cheez-It 355 at the Glen will go green Sunday.

L.A. Crum is a professional writer and journalist from Ohio. He is an avid follower of motorsports and college athletics and has worked with many of the top teams and drivers in the racing industry during his decade long career. He is a proud graduate of Marshall University.

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