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Mash The Gas: NASCAR Watkins Glen Preview

AJ Allmendinger won last years Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen to capture a spot in the Chase. [Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images]

Action at Watkins Glen tends to be non-stop in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. [Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has its second road course event of the season this Sunday with the I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International.

I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at The Glen
Watkins Glen International
220.6 miles (90 laps)
Sunday, August 6
3 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 90)
Watkins Glen is a road course that races like a super speedway as it is one of the fastest left-right circuits around and lately the outcome has become quite unpredictable. There have been ten different winners in the last ten Cup races held here and with just five races remaining until the playoff cut off, Watkins Glen provides a great opportunity for a driver deep in the points to swipe a playoff spot with a victory.

With fourteen winners already this season and thirteen playoff spots accounted for (Joey Logano’s Richmond win was encumbered), those playoff positions are at a premium and this road course event brings various strategies into play that provide opportunities to gamble to grab a victory.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars are always fun to watch on a road course and here are some drivers to watch…

Clint Bowyer (Dan Margetta)
Clint Bowyer isn’t really known as a road course racer but he has put up some impressive numbers on the twisting circuits. He does have a win at Sonoma back in 2012 and has been running very well lately. Bowyer currently doesn’t have a playoff spot locked up and he has been knocking on the door for a victory the last few weeks which makes the Watkins Glen race attractive for him to pull off a win. He is listed at 8-1 odds this week and when Bowyer was in lesser rides, this was a track where he was able to finish in the top ten. Clint Bowyer is hungry for a win and Sunday presents a prime opportunity to get that victory and put the #14 team in the playoffs.

Joey Logano (John Wiedemann)
Time is quickly running out for Joey Logano to grab a spot in the upcoming playoffs. Logano has a victory at Watkins Glen to go along with three top fives, five top tens and a 12.8 average finish in eight career Cup Series races. If you plot Logano’s finishes on a chart, it would look like a roller coaster – top ten, thirtieth, top ten, thirtieth. He is due for another top ten this weekend if he continues the pattern. At the Sonoma road course earlier this season Logano finished twelfth, so that seems like a pretty good prediction. But you never know, with the right strategy Logano could battle for the checkers and become the fourteenth unencumbered winner this season and grab that coveted playoff spot.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
Brad Keselowsi is already qualified for the playoffs but it’s been awhile since he’s found victory lane and Watkins Glen is a track he is pretty good at. Keselowski does have a victory here and has been on a bit of a roll lately highlighted by a second place finish at Indy a few weeks ago. He has an average finish here of fifth over the last two years and should be strong on Sunday as well. Keselowski is also listed at 8-1 odds this week and he should be looking to bolster his team’s confidence as they begin their playoff stretch. Brad Keselowski is smart enough to know how to race on road courses, picking and choosing the spots to pass, and he should be a factor on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin (JW)
Denny Hamlin has been on a road course tear lately. The defending champion of this race is coming off a Sonoma finish where he led laps and finished fourth. Hamlin is also on a roll with five top four finishes in the last seven races, including his win at New Hampshire. With all the troubles that Joe Gibbs Racing had with finding victory lane early this season, they have won two of the last three races, and maybe should have had a three race sweep if things had gone a bit differently at Indy. This weekend should be another good weekend for the #11 Toyota as well as the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick is going for the season sweep on the road courses this weekend as he was the winner of the other road course race in 2017 at Sonoma. Harvick has been an accomplished road racer the past few years and the sweep is definitely not out of the question this weekend. He’s listed at 7-1 odds for the Glen and has one victory here to go along with three top fives and eight top ten finishes. Harvick’s Sonoma win should get him in the playoffs as he currently sits third in points but a victory on Sunday would not only earn valuable playoff points but could also shut out some strong contenders who have yet to win this season and are currently on the bubble as far as making the playoffs. Don’t count out Kevin Harvick on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr (JW)
Here is another track that Martin Truex Jr would like to add to the win list. Truex’s results have been good with three top five, six top ten finishes and a 13.1 average finish in eleven races at Watkins Glen. Truex runs great at Sonoma Raceway as well with a victory there and two top fives and three top tens in twelve races. This year’s Sonoma race could have been a victory as well but after leading a race high twenty-five laps, Truex’s engine expired. This team is all about winning stages so expect them to run with the front group for the entire race. If his engine lasts, Truex could be in line for another road course win as well.

A.J. Allmendinger (DM)
There was a time when A.J. Allmendinger was automatically the favorite when it came to road courses. Times have changed lately however as the other drivers have honed their road racing skills and have made it tougher for the “ringers” to run up front. While it’s been tougher lately though, A.J. Allmendinger hasn’t forgotten how to drive road courses and he is still considered a contender here. His only Cup win came here and he will need to find victory lane if he hopes to make the playoffs as he sits well down in the standings. He is listed at 15-1 odds this week and does have three top fives and five top ten finishes to go with his lone victory. Allmendinger finished fourth in this race last year so he is accustomed to running up front at the Glen. A.J. Allmendinger could sweep in and steal a playoff spot this weekend which would really jumble the playoff race and don’t be surprised if that happens.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta