NASCAR Cup Series
By Pat DeCola
Published: 7 Aug, 2021
8 Minute Read
Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the 23rd points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.
Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Watkins Glen International.
1. There’s one prevailing question heading into the weekend: Who, if anyone, can stop Chase Elliott from riding to Victory Lane on Sunday? Winner of the last two trips to the Upstate New York track, Elliott has established himself to be a force on any road course over his career with a whopping seven wins in just 16 career starts on them. The best shot to stop him likely falls under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner, with Martin Truex Jr. having landed in the top two at The Glen each of the last three races there (won in August 2017) and leading in in five straight. Kyle Busch has looked like Hendrick’s biggest threat of late, as well, but don’t sleep on teammates Denny Hamlin – a former WGI winner – and Christopher Bell, who won the season’s first road-course race at Daytona International Speedway.
2. For all the eyes on Hendrick Motorsports and JGR, the Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney will start 1-2-3 to open Sunday’s race. All three have a strong degree of road-course chops – the 2012 champ once finished runner-up at The Glen three years in a row, Logano is the 2015 winner of the race and Blaney counts road racing among his strengths, as evidenced by his 2018 Charlotte Roval win. It has been an interesting year, to say the least, for Team Penske, but as the Fords start to pick up some steam, keep an eye on this triumvirate. If Elliott is going to win, he’s going to have to pass all three.
3. Speaking of the Fords, it’ll be interesting to see if the manufacturer continues building this weekend after rolling into the break with a Stewart-Haas Racing win courtesy of Aric Almirola. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, of course, could not be more different than this weekend’s road course, but Ford is on an upward trajectory after just its fifth win in the season’s first 22 races. Perhaps most notably, the win was the first all year for SHR after Kevin Harvick led the series with nine wins in last season’s 36 races. If Ford truly has caught up to Chevrolet and Toyota – a bit of a big “if” for now – we could be looking at a Harvick-dominated stretch run. It’s still early to declare that, but the 2014 champ – and one-time WGI winner – could still make some noise in the championship conversation.
DEBATES: Can anyone knock out Harvick/Hamlin? | Why Chase is so good at road courses
4. Silly Season remains in full swing, and while we know now where two of the biggest dominoes – Keselowski and Ross Chastain – will fall in 2022, Kurt Busch is seemingly still out there for the taking, and he’s doing nothing but driving up his value lately. After no top 10s from Las Vegas Motor Speedway to Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch has five top eights (and a win) in seven races since the Coca-Cola 600, despite his team announcing a sale during that timeframe that put he and Chastain out of a job for ’22. Busch wants to continue his career and reports have linked him to 23XI Racing, and in the meantime, the 43-year-old is doing nothing to dissuade potential suitors. Chip Ganassi Racing appears destined to wrap up its long tenure in NASCAR in style, and Busch – who has seven straight top 11s at WGI – is leading the charge. Whichever team lands the 2004 champ, it’s clear it’ll be getting a motivated driver who hasn’t lost a step just yet.
5. And while all of that is certainly attention-grabbing, lest we forget there’s an intense playoff bubble battle going on – between teammates. Richard Childress Racing cohorts Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick are neck and neck on the cutline with just four races remaining before the playoff grid locks in. Unfortunately for the former Daytona 500 winner, he and Reddick are trending in opposite directions and the latter clearly has the upper hand when it comes to road racing … which the series will be doing the next two weekends. Still, the regular-season finale takes place at Daytona on the classic superspeedway layout, so even if Watkins Glen and Indianapolis Road Course don’t go well for the No. 3 driver, respite could come at Michigan International Speedway or the “World Center of Racing.” Of course, we could always see another first-time 2021 winner come in and shake things up even further (hello, Erik Jones and his three WGI top 10s in three starts) but for now this tug-of-war between teammates is front and center.
Our biggest pieces of the week – get covered for race day from all angles.
– Power Rankings: Analyzing Cup teams with playoffs looming | Scope the ranks
– Paint Scheme Preview: All the fresh looks for Watkins Glen | See the schemes
– Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
– Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show
– Bubble Watch: Where drivers closest to the cutline stand before Watkins Glen | See the bubble
– For starters: Brad Keselowski to start from Cup Series pole position at Watkins Glen | Read more
– Playoff Watch: How the postseason picture looks | Read more
Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
– Betting odds for Watkins Glen race | See the odds
– NASCAR set to roll out two betting education products this week | Read more
– NASCAR betting: Odds for 2021 Cup Series championship | See the odds
– One-stop shop for NASCAR betting information | Check it out
– Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
– Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ
NASCAR is back in New York with a race at The Glen. Take a look at some track history and what happened last time out.
– Remember this?: Memorable moments from Watkins Glen | See the moments
– Richmond wins the return: Relive the first race at The Glen in more than two decades | Watch ’86 Budweiser at The Glen
– Trophy time: All-time wins at Watkins Glen | See the winners
– On the box: Active crew chiefs with NASCAR Cup Series road-course wins | See the list
– A little help from his friend: Chase Elliott gets a push from Jimmie Johnson after first win | Watch the replay
– Front of the field: Top 10 lap leaders at Watkins Glen | See the list
– Looking back: NASCAR’s return to Watkins Glen | Read more
Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.
– If one more new playoff-eligble driver wins, it’ll be the most (14) the NASCAR Playoffs have ever seen – and there are four regular-season races left in which it could happen.
– Three of the last nine Watkins Glen races were won by drivers getting their first Cup series win.
– Fourteen of the last 16 Watkins Glen races were won from a top-10 starting position.
– The driver who led the most laps won the last three races at Watkins Glen – but won only one of the six races prior to that.
– There have only been two overtime finishes at Watkins Glen, the last of which was in 2011.
Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.
– Looking ahead: What to watch for in the regular-season stretch run | Read more
– Off-week reflections: Highlights from 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season – so far | Read more
– She said yes: Bubba Wallace proposes to longtime girlfriend Amanda Carter | Read more
– Dream big: Toyota Racing forms the Dream Experiential Endowment | Read more
– Owning up: New ownership movement in NASCAR embraces the sport’s future | Read more
– Trackhouse sizes up: Trackhouse taps Ross Chastain as second Cup Series driver for 2022 | Read more
– Search party: Search ‘still ongoing’ for Ryan Blaney, No. 12 team’s new crew chief for 2022 | Read more
– Awards season: @nascarcasm’s season-so-far awards | Read more
Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.
“I try not to pay attention to any of the talk, positive or negative, and not let that influence me. That’s personally how I handle it. I try to lead by example for my guys and what we’ve accomplished in the past is great and we’re super proud of that, but it’s ultimately not going to really do much for us this weekend besides us knowing the lessons we’ve learned from racing there and being successful. We still have to do our jobs and we still have to be prepared and be ready and we still have to execute. We focus on those things and race it like it’s your last race and in doing the best you can and try to do that every week.” — Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“I think right now, personally, we’ve got some things to clean up. I think we’ve been doing a really good job of getting our cars more competitive. I think you saw at New Hampshire all the Penske cars were really fast. Brad and I won both the stages and we led a bunch of laps and not only our cars got better, but all the Fords, I thought, took a big step forward with the 10 winning. Kevin ran really good. The 21 was good, so I think all of us took a big step forward, but that aside, we’ve got to clean up some stuff in some other areas and have some smoother stops and things like that, and just put whole days together. We’re working on the speed right now and then there’s some things to clean up on the other side and I think we can do it. But Loudon was a very good race for us, for our whole group, and I think we can build off that for sure.” — Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford
“(Pressure is) not an easy thing to manage. The more experience you have and the more faith and confidence you have in people around you really helps manage the load that comes with all this pressure, especially with the stress coming up here. One bad race here or there can screw up the entire year, right? It’s important that you don’t let the negatives become overwhelming. You focus on the positive and for me, it’s really easy for me to stay positive because all the hard work that myself and this entire organization has put into this year and into road courses and into our program.” — Tyler Reddick, driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet