NASCAR Watkins Glen International Weekend Preview

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 06: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, lead a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series I Love NY 355 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 6, 2017 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races the GoBowling at The Glen (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the historic Watkins Glen International in picturesque upstate New York this weekend – the second road course offering of the 2018 schedule. And it requires a decidedly different skill set and presents lots of opportunity in a season where three drivers have visited the vast majority of Victory Lanes.

The fact is, the road course races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule – at Sonoma, Calif. and Watkins Glen – have traditionally been dominated in the last couple decades by the likes of Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who have combined for 12 wins in the last 25 races at Watkins Glen and won another nine at Sonoma during that time.

But all three of the those road course greats have retired now from Cup competition and the door is wide open for others to step up on one of NASCAR’s most exciting and unpredictable venues.

There have been eight different winners in the last eight Watkins Glen races. And there are only six active former winners in this weekend’s field – defending winner Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.

Clearly, however, Truex has been the most recent road course ace and is seeking his third consecutive victory this week. He’s the defending winner at The Glen and won at Sonoma earlier this year. He has also led the most laps in the last three road course events – including a rare dominating performance (62 laps) for his Sonoma victory earlier this summer. He has finished every single lap in 12 starts at Watkins Glen.

“I raced go karts on road courses and always had fun learning the challenges of road racing,” Truex said. “I can remember the first time I raced at Watkins Glen. It was in a Busch North Series car. It took a while to figure out the track – it was crazy. I kept asking myself ‘How are these guys going so fast around here?’

“I have a lot of years of experience racing at The Glen. And right now I am with a great team which gives me all the pieces to be able to win races at different tracks. Hopefully we can go to The Glen this weekend and do it again. We know that a good qualifying spot is key. Starting up front sets the tone for the race.”

Only twice in the last 14 races has the winner started from farther back than seventh position. Kyle Busch is the last to win the race from the pole position (2008).

Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team may feel a little championship “tag-you’re-it” as the other two members of the dominant “Big 3” group – Harvick and Busch – have won the preceding two races coming to Watkins Glen. The mighty threesome has won nine of the last 10 races and all three have hoisted a victory at The Glen before.

Historic Opportunity

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell isn’t only trying to maintain his Xfinity Series championship lead at Watkins Glen in Saturday’s Zippo 200 at The Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – he’s got a shot at NASCAR history.

A win Saturday for the 23-year old Bell would tie Sam Ard’s mark of four consecutive Xfinity Series victories and also tie a series rookie season record of five victories – putting him in elite company with Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. And it’s just the first week of August.

First up, however, Bell fully concedes he faces a big challenge at Watkins Glen and the road course portion of the schedule in general. As excited as he is to be in position to win four straight, the former dirt racer acknowledges his first try at The Glen may be his biggest challenge yet.

“Definitely the lack of experience is huge, but for me in my past, shifting has been extremely difficult going into road course races,” said Bell, who drives the JGR No. 20 Rheem Toyota. “I don’t know if I’ve had a road course weekend where I haven’t blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting. So that’s the No. 1 goal to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.

“It’s just so opposite of everything that I’ve done in my past, but I’ve really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done, especially at Canada. I feel like I’ve been fairly competitive up there. The only thing that’s hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year. I really struggled at Road America last year, and that’s the only reason that I don’t feel like I could compete for the win this week.”

But, Bell acknowledged, he’s doing all he can to feel more comfortable at The Glen and he has every intention of upping his road course game.

“Just trying to get as prepared as I can be going into a racetrack where I’ve never been before, not only a racetrack that I’ve never been before, but going road racing, which is something that I haven’t had the most success at in the world,” Bell said. “Just trying to prepare for that and do as much homework as I can to try and get a good result this weekend.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: GoBowling at The Glen

The Place:  Watkins Glen International

The Date: Sunday, August  5

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 220.5 miles (90 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 90)

What to Watch For: Martin Truex Jr. is trying to win his third consecutive road course race. He is the defending winner at Watkins Glen and won at Sonoma, Calif. in June. … Cup points leader Kyle Busch boasts the best driver’s rating (110.7) at The Glen for someone with more than one start. … Second-year driver Daniel Suarez scored – then- a career-best finish (third) at the track last year. He bettered that last week with a runner-up at Pocono, Pa.. … Kyle Busch is the only repeat winner at The Glen in the last 10 years, winning in 2008 from the pole position and again in 2013. … Kyle Busch’s two pole positions are most among drivers entered this week. … A.J. Allmendinger’s 2014 win at The Glen is the only Chevrolet victory in the last seven years at the track. … Marcos Ambrose (2011-12) and Tony Stewart (2004-05) are the last drivers to win consecutive races here. … At The Glen, 63 percent of the races have been won from a top-five starting position –  26 percent from the pole position. …The deepest a winner has started is 18th (Steve Park in 2000). … Brad Keselowski is tied with Mark Martin for most runner-up finishes (three). … The closest margin of victory for a win is 0.172-seconds when Jeff Gordon beat Jeff Burton in 2001. … Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is the fifth highest-rated driver on the course, but it is one of only three active tracks where he has not won. He has eight top-10s at The Glen, second only to Kyle Busch’s 11. … Spencer Gallagher is making his Cup debut this weekend driving for BK Racing.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Zippo 200 at The Glen

The Place: Watkins Glen International

The Date: Saturday, August 4

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200.9 miles (82 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 82)

What to Watch For: Championship leader Christopher Bell is making his Watkins Glen debut. He has won the last three Xfinity races and would tie Sam Ard for most consecutive wins in the series should he notch number four on Saturday. … Seven drivers in the last eight seasons have scored their first ever Xfinity win on a road course. Jeremy Clements is the most recent to do so, winning at Road America last season. …  Daniel Hemric (11.0) leads Elliott Sadler (11.4) and Cole Custer (12.0) in best average finish among fulltime Xfinity drivers at Watkins Glen. … The last time a non-Cup regular won this race was 2001 when road course ace Ron Fellows won his second straight Xfinity race at the track. … Six Cup drivers are entered – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger. … Ross Chastain currently holds a 40-point advantage over Michael Annett for the final playoff spot.

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