Weekend Preview – Watkins Glen

The battle for the final spot in the NASCAR Cup Playoffs takes center stage at Watkins Glen

It would be difficult to imagine more explicit storylines in a single NASCAR race than those present at Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3pm ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

After overcoming a 65-race drought on August 7 at Michigan International Raceway, Kevin Harvick is aiming for his third consecutive Cup win.

An international field at Watkins Glen International includes former Formula One drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat, who together made up a tenth of the F1 grid in 2020.

Chase Elliott will attempt to reclaim the title of “King of the Road Course” from usurper Tyler Reddick, who won the last two road course events at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

Elliott, who has had seven of his 17 career wins on road courses, is all but certain to win the Cup Series regular-season title on Sunday.

However, the focus of Sunday’s action will be the continuation of the saga of Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. as they battle for last place in the Cup playoffs with two races to go in the regular season.

Last Sunday at Richmond Raceway, Blaney used an 11-1 stage points advantage to extend his lead over Truex to 26 points despite finishing 10th ahead of Truex.

Despite being second and fourth in the points standings, Blaney and Truex occupy the two sides of the playoff bubble because neither has a win this season and 15 other drivers do.

On paper, Truex appears to have a distinct advantage over Blaney at the Glen. Truex has one win, seven top 5 finishes and 10 top 10 finishes in 15 starts at Watkins Glen. Blaney has earned a top 5 finish (5th in 2019) and two top 10 finishes in five visits to the 2,450-mile, seven-corner circuit in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

However, NASCAR’s next-generation car has changed the paradigm. In four road races this season, Truex’s best finish was seventh place at the Circuit of The Americas and no other result is better than 13th place.

“If you look at our season,” Truex said, “the street courses have been our biggest battle, for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota overall. I have faith in what I can do there (at Watkins Glen) but when you don’t have a car to drive it’s hard to make up for it.”

Both Truex and Blaney can claim last place in the playoffs by winning one of the final two races of the regular season, but currently winless drivers among them in the standings can.

“It would be disappointing not to make it in the season we’ve had,” Truex said, “but you have to win to get in.”

Both Elliott and Reddick have played their part in winning this season, but Reddick has maintained his dominance on the road courses. Elliott readily concedes this point.

“He’s won most of the road courses (races) this season, so he’d probably be the obvious choice,” said Elliott, who is 116 points ahead of Blaney in the race for the regular-season title. “I’m just looking at the facts. He’s won two of the last ones, but a lot, so he’s pretty good.”

Although Watkins Glen is a high-speed track, sometimes referred to as “the street-course superspeedway,” Elliott doesn’t anticipate the same type of chaos that drivers recently experienced at Indianapolis.

“Entering Turn 1 (at Watkins Glen) doesn’t require anyone to be stupid,” said Elliott.

AJ Allmendinger is looking to extend his road course dominance at the Glen

It would be easy to identify the favorite in Saturday’s Sunoco Go Rewards 200 if it weren’t for the NASCAR Cup Series invaders.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Champion Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, Ross Chastain and Cole Custer will all join the NASCAR Xfinity Series race (3pm ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Even so, the 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen International may still be Xfinity Series leader AJ Allmendinger’s special province.

The driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet has won three of the series’ four road races so far this season – at Portland’s Circuit of The Americas and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

Driving for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2014, Allmendinger took the first of his two Cup Series wins at The Glen. In three Xfinity Series starts at the track, he has finished second all three times (although his second place finish in 2019 was followed by a disqualification for a ride height violation).

In 22 starts of the Xfinity series on street circuits, Allmendinger has notched up an impressive nine wins and 18 top-five finishes. So if any driver can fend off challenges from the Cup regulars, Allmendinger can.

“Watkins Glen will always be a special place for me,” said Allmendinger, who is also in charge of the cup race this weekend. “The crowd is always great and the memories of my first cup win will stay with me forever.

“Ever since they resurfaced the track (in 2015) it’s been a challenge for me, but with the next-gen car in the Cup Series it could be very different. Hopefully we will have two really great placings this weekend.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Next race: Bowling at The Glen

The location: Watkins Glen International

The date: Sunday 21 August

The time: 3:00 p.m. ET

The purse: $6,664,145

TV: US, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio

Distance: 220.5 miles (90 laps); Stage 1 (ends in round 20),

Stage 2 (ends in lap 40), final stage (ends in lap 90)

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next race: Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen

The location: Watkins Glen International

The date: Saturday 20 August

The time: 3:00 p.m. ET

The purse: $1,159,436

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

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio

Distance: 200.9 miles (82 laps); Stage 1 (ends in round 20),

Stage 2 (ends in lap 40), final stage (ends in lap 82)

— NASCAR cable service —