NASCAR Weekend Preview: Watkins Glen International

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 05: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, lead the field during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GoBowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 5, 2018 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Road course racing has typically been a summer highlight reel for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and with Playoff hopes on the line, Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) should be another exciting chapter.

Last year saw the sport’s “Most Popular Driver” Chase Elliott – then 22-years old – pick up the first win of his series career – the fourth time in history a driver has earned his first trophy on the historic 2.54-mile course in upstate New York.

With the recent retirement of NASAR’s all-time best at Watkins Glen – five-time winner Tony Stewart and four-time winner Jeff Gordon – the competition has been even more wide-open and unpredictable. Only six current drivers – Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex – have won at The Glen previously. And only Busch has won multiple times – twice.

The placement of the race – with five races remaining to set the 16-driver Playoff field – puts even more emphasis on driver road course skills and team strategy calls.

None of the drivers ranked 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th in the standings – Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer – have won at Watkins Glen previously. Neither have the two closest challengers to the Playoff cutoff – 17th place Jimmie Johnson or 18th place Daniel Suarez.

Jones, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has a pair of top-10 finishes in his two starts at The Glen and is coming off his best showing – fifth place last year. At 13th in the standings, he holds a 39-point advantage over Johnson, and brings a three-race streak of top-five finishes into the weekend.

“The last few weeks we’ve really come on strong and the results have shown that each week,” said Jones, who earned a season best runner-up showing last week at Pocono Raceway.

“We’ll go to Watkins Glen and focus on finishing a few positions better than the last few weeks and hopefully get our first win of the season and lock ourselves into the Playoffs.”

Larson, the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has two front row starts at Watkins Glen and his Ganassi team is full of road course experience and expertise considering it also fields winning cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series and the IndyCar series. Larson’s best finish is fourth in his first series start at The Glen in 2014. He was sixth last year. He holds a 37-point edge inside the top-16.

Bowyer, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, has five top-10s in 13 starts at Watkins Glen. His best ever showing is fourth in 2013 and he added another top five (fifth) in 2017. He is the only driver among this group with a Monster Energy Series road course victory. He won at Sonoma in 2012. He is tied with Newman in the points standings – both drivers 12 points up on Johnson.

Newman, the driver of the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford, has three top-10 finishes in 17 starts with a best showing of runner-up in his first Watkins Glen race in 2002. He did win the 2005 Xfinity Series race at the track. However, he hasn’t had a top-10 finish in the Cup event there since 2006.

XFINITY GOES ROAD RACING

The first of four upcoming road course events for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Saturday’s Zippo 200 at The Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is always a must-see event pitting series championship contenders against Cup regulars and quite often against road course ringers just competing for the chance to win at the historic track.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano has won three of the last four races, but won’t be competing this weekend. Instead his Monster Energy Series teammate Ryan Blaney – who won last year’s inaugural ROVAL Cup Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course – will drive the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. Kyle Busch, who won this race in 2017, is entered for Joe Gibbs Racing, as is Cup rookie Ryan Preece, who will drive for JR Motorsports.

The current three top Xfinity series championship contenders certainly would like to stop the run of Cup winners, however experience at the track is not in their favor. Points leader Tyler Reddick has only one start at Watkins Glen – an 11th place finish last year. Both Christopher Bell and Cole Custer – in second and third place in the championship standings – are averaging a 9.0 average finish at Watkins Glen also in limited starts.

Reddick has never finished top-five on any NASCAR road course race. Last year, Bell was fifth at the Charlotte ROVAL and Custer was fourth at Road America. Custer’s best road course finish was a very dramatic runner-up showing to John Hunter Nemechek at the 2016 Bowmanville, Ontario NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

Justin Allgaier, who is ranked fourth in the championship standing is still looking for his first win of the season after a career best five wins in 2018. And the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet is a favorite on any road course. He has finished top-10 in the last five races at The Glen. Allgaier won two of the four road course races last year – at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Road America.

Austin Cindric, who is ranked fifth in the championship, is another driver bringing well-earned road course skills to the series. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford won the pole position at both Mid-Ohio and the Charlotte ROVAL races last year and finished runner-up at Mid-Ohio and third at the ROVAL.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Go Bowling At The Glen

The Place: Watkins Glen International

The Date: Sunday, August 4

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

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

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 90)

2018 Race Winner: Chase Elliott

What to Watch For: Chase Elliott’s victory last year in this race was the first of his career. He is one of four drivers to earn their first Cup win at Watkins Glen, N.Y. – also including Steve Park (2000), Marcos Ambrose (2011) and AJ Allmendinger (2014). … Elliott is the youngest driver (22 year, eight months) in history to win a series race at the track. … Buck Baker won the first Monster Energy Series race at Watkins Glen in 1957. … Only four times has a driver won back-to-back races. The last to do so was Marcos Ambrose in 2011-12. …Tony Stewart is the winningest driver with five victories. … Brad Keselowski and Mark Martin have the most runner-up finishes (three). … The pole winner has won this race nine times – the most of any starting position. The winner has come from a top-five staring position 63.8 percent of the time. …Mark Martin won three consecutive races from the pole (1993-95). … The farthest back on the grid a winner has started is 18th – Steve Park in 2000. …. Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon have the most pole positions (three). …Among active drivers Kurt Busch has the most Cup starts at the track (18) without a win. He has victories in the 2006 and 2011 Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen, however.  … The most caution flags (10) in a race happened in Kevin Harvick’s 2006 victory. …. The most lead changes in a race is 14 and it’s happened three times (1991, 2006 and 2011). … There have been nine lead changes in each of the last three races. … Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick have made the most starts (18) among active drivers … Todd Bodine, of Chemung, N.Y., is the only driver to earn his first pole position (1997) at Watkins Glen. … Darrell Waltrip holds the record for most career pole positions on a NASCAR road course (nine at Riverside). … Tony Stewart led 83 of 92 laps en route to the 2005 win – the most laps led by a race winner. …. Since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993, closest Margin of Victory is .172-seconds, when Jeff Gordon beat Jeff Burton in 2001.. … Chevrolet leads all makes with 18 wins. Ford has eight and Toyota has four. … Toyota has won two of the last three races. … Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for the most wins (seven) at the track.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Zippo 200 At The Glen

The Place: Watkins Glen International

The Date: Saturday, August 3

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200.9 miles (82 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 82)

2018 Race Winner: Joey Logano

What to Watch For: Joey Logano has won three of the last four Xfinity races at The Glen and is the defending winner. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte and Australian Marcos Ambrose are the winningest drivers in this race with four victories each. …Twice a driver has won three consecutive events – Labonte in 1994-96 and Ambrose 2008-10. …Ford has won six of the last seven races at The Glen and is defending winner. …. Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 10 victories. Ford has eight and Toyota has three. … Terry Labonte beat Joe Nemechek in the inaugural Xfinity Series race here in 1991, leading 53 of 62 laps. …The race was 150 miles from 1991-94 and has been 200 miles in length since. …. Terry Labonte won the first 200-miler, beating Chad Little by 3.888-seconds in 1995. …. The largest Margin of Victory ever in this race is 6.82-seconds when Terry Labonte beat Bobby Dotter in 1994 when the event was still a 150-lapper. … The closest Margin of Victory (other than the race ending under caution) is .431-second when Mike McLaughlin edged Todd Bodine in 1997. …The polesitter has won this race nine times – the winningest starting position. Fifteen times in the 25-race history, the winner has started from the front row. …The farthest starting position on the grid for a winner is 22nd place. Ernie Irvan won from there in 1992. … Top-10 starters have won 21 of 25 races. … The most lead changes in a race was 15, in 2014. Marcos Ambrose was the race winner. … Among the three current Xfinity Series championship leaders, the average finish at Watkins Glen is 9.0 for both Christopher Bell and Cole Custer – who are second and third in the points standings. Neither has led a lap. Championship leader Tyler Reddick finished 11th last year in his only start. … Three Cup regulars will be competing in this race, including Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, the 2017 race winner; JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ryan Preece and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. … Former Cup regular A.J. Allmendinger will be driving this weekend for Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger won the 2014 Cup race at Watkins Glen. He finished runner-up to Logano in this race last year.

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