Watkins Glen is the final road course chance in NASCAR’s regular season

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 21: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Go Bowling Ford, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 21, 2022 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Just two races remain before the NASCAR Playoff field is set. 

Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen (3 pm ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a 90-lap opportunity to join that roster at Watkins Glen International, a 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course in New York. 

Two superstar drivers from Hendrick Motorsports need to win if they want to be in the postseason and make a run at the championship. 

Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott were both out earlier this season after injury or suspension. Elliott especially comes into the road course with extra confidence. He’s won seven times at road courses and twice at Watkins Glen alone. Elliott, then, has won a third of his six starts at Watkins Glen.  

Bowman will have a tougher job, though, as it will involve breaking a 57-race winless streak. It’s the sixth-longest winless streak in the series.

One driver with a worse record? The old road course ringer AJ Allmendinger, who hasn’t won since winning in the first-ever outing at the Indianapolis road course two years ago. His Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haley has the longest win streak in the series at 150 races, but he’s actually come closer to winning than AJ this year with a runner-up finish at the Chicago Street Course.

Betting Odds via BetMGM
+300 – Chase Elliott
+550 – Kyle Larson
+700 – Martin Truex
+900 – Tyler Reddick
+1100 – Daniel Suarez
+1300 – Michael McDowell
+1300 – Christoper Bell
+1400 – Kyle Busch
+1500 – AJ Allmendinger
+2500 – Chris Buescher

As for the track itself, though it’s a road course like last week’s race at Indy, it’s nothing alike.

“Comparing the Indy road course and Watkins Glen, it seems to me like going to a short track versus an intermediate track,” explained Ryan Preece.

“Watkins Glen is very high-speed and it kind of flows, whereas Indy, it reminds me somewhat of COTA, where it’s a lot of transitions and making your car change direction really quickly – stop-and-go.”

Preece is one driver who needs a win to get into the Playoffs, along with his Stewart-Haas teammates Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe. Those three drivers all sit 24th or worse in points in a poor season for the team. 

Briscoe, whose 31st-place points position is largely down to a massive penalty for counterfeit parts earlier in the season, had a strong run at Indianapolis – culminating in a sixth-place finish – that gives his team some extra momentum.

He says it’s definitely a confidence-booster for the road courses.

“For sure,” Briscoe said. “This is the most competitive that I’ve been and the best feel I’ve had. It’s the closest we’ve been to what it used to feel like for me on the road courses when I ran really well, so I’m really hoping it carries over into this weekend.”

On the other hand, Kevin Harvick, the fourth Stewart-Haas driver, has the highest position in the standings of any driver without a win. He’s only two points ahead of Brad Keselowski, though, and, if there are two new winners at Watkins Glen and the always-unpredictable Daytona, only one points position is guaranteed. 

Harvick expects to be good at The Glen, though.

“Watkins Glen is a place where we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good runs, and I think going there and having a permanent road course and more of a traditional race, for me, is much easier to prepare for because I know the racetrack and I know the curbs and the bumps and the details of everything that goes on, so it makes me more comfortable prepping for the race,” he explained.

As for the cutline as it stands heading into Watkins Glen, Bubba Wallace is 28 points to the good over Daniel Suarez. With no new winners, that point position is up for grabs. But any new winner at The Glen or at the superspeedway in Daytona puts Bubba Wallace on the outside looking in.

Another winner would put Wallace on the wrong side of the cutline, with an insurmountable gap of 115 to Brad Keselowski forcing him to win at Daytona. However, Wallace is strong on the superspeedways.

He’ll have to fend off Daniel Suarez just to keep that position. A runner-up finish at Indianapolis brought Suarez into contention for the spot. 

“We just need to keep doing what we are doing,” Suarez said. 

“That’s qualify well and earn stage points and get a good finish. There is still a lot of racing left and we know we can do this. If we have as good a car at Watkins Glen as we had at Indianapolis, we know we can win there. That’s true about Daytona as well.”

A new winner is certainly a possibility. Michael McDowell’s strong win at Daytona removed one points position – although McDowell was already a bubble driver who had a competitive claim to making the Playoffs on points. 

On the other side of the standings, Martin Truex, Jr. isn’t ready to coast into the Playoffs. Though he has a comfortable 60-point lead over runner-up Denny Hamlin in the regular-season standings, the massive Playoff point bonus from winning the championship keeps Truex motivated to go after every point. 

“Every single race is important,” he said. “All 26 matter and all 26 can earn you points and do things that will help you in the playoffs. For us, it’s business as usual.”

“We are looking at locking up 15 bonus points by trying to get the regular-season championship,” Truex detailed. “It’s an opportunity to lock up a lot of bonus points and that’s what matters in the playoffs.”

Outperforming Denny Hamlin and the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates is a fresh feeling for Truex. Last season, he missed out on a Playoff spot by not securing a win in a year that only one points position transferred into the postseason. This season, he’s picked up three wins, and he’ll be hoping to add a fourth in upstate New York. 

Practice is Saturday followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

Xfinity Series takes on the twists at The Glen

The pressure is heating up in the Xfinity Series with just four races to decide the Playoff grid.

Saturday’s Shriners Children’s 200 (3:30 p.m. EDT on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Watkins Glen International offers drivers a shot to win a 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course. It’s the final road course before the postseason begins. 

There are just twelve Playoff spots and, with eight winners already, a strong points position is no guarantee off a berth if four new winners clinch their spot.

That puts Riley Herbst, who comes into Watkins Glen in the twelfth position in the Playoff standings, in even more precarious position.

But he’s excited to head to upstate New York, whatever happens. 

“Watkins Glen is a fun track for me as a driver,” he explained.

“It’s such a fast road course, and you really have to think about each turn so you’re not getting yourself into trouble. Each of the seven turns is unique, so you just have to be on top of your game every time you go there. I’m excited to head back there after a strong run last year, and given the speed we’ve had on road courses this season. We’ve had top-three speed every week, it seems, so now it’s just about avoiding mistakes and having a perfect race.”

Daniel Hemrick, Sheldon Creed, and Josh Berry are the other drivers who currently hold enough points to secure a Playoff berth heading into Watkins Glen.

Creed is just 17 points ahead of Parker Kligerman, with that points battle very much in flux.

But the battle is just as heated on the top of the points table. Points leader Austin Hill has just eleven points on John Hunter Nemechek. Hill has five wins to Nemechek’s four.

Behind them, Justin Allgaier is 34 points behind with just one win, while fourth-place Cole Custer trails by 112 points.

Stewart-Haas driver Custer, who’s won twice this season, both on road courses, would gain in the regular season standings and earn vital Playoff points with another win on the type of tracks he’s been successful on.

“Watkins Glen just throws that element of high speed into it so it’s a lot different than any other road course on the schedule,” Custer said.

“The No. 00 team and I are excited for the challenge, though, and hopefully we can show the same speed that we’ve had for the past few road-course races.”

Ty Gibbs and Kyle Busch will be adding some Cup Series-level competition to give the Xfinity Series regulars a race. Those drivers who have the points but don’t have a win would benefit from Gibbs or Busch finding victory lane if they themselves can’t, though.

Qualifying could prove vital: seventeen of the last 28 Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen have been won by a driver starting on the front row, and nine of those winners were polesitters.

Practice is Saturday – raceday – at 10:30 a.m. ET followed by qualifying at 11 a.m. ET, all streamed on the NBC Sports App. 

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 20: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Cub Cadet Toyota, and William Byron, driver of the #17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 20, 2022 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Go Bowling at The Glen
The Place: Watkins Glen International
The Date: Sunday, August 20
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,154,312
TV: USA, 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)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Shriner’s Children 200 at The Glen
The Place: Watkins Glen International
The Date: Saturday, August 19
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,257,045
TV: USA, 3 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)

Owen Johnson