NASCAR Cup Series
By Zach Sturniolo
6 Minute Read
The final road course of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season is upon us.
The Go Bowling at The Glen rolls on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), bringing with it several key story lines as the 26-race regular season makes stop No. 25.
With plenty to preview, let’s set the scene for the weekend:
This weekend’s Cup race features some stacked global resumes. It also features a record of seven nations represented throughout the field.
The field, of course, is highlighted by 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, a 21-time winner there who stood atop 103 podiums in his 19-year F1 career. The Finnish driver will make his Cup debut in Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 entry, the No. 91 Chevrolet sponsored by Recogni and iLOQ.
RELATED: Weekend schedule | Cup Series standings
Joining him will be German racer Mike Rockenfeller in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet. Rockenfeller shouldn’t be overlooked as a true competitor this weekend, boasting wins in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in his career. Both Räikkönen and Rockenfeller tested a Next Gen car at Virginia International Raceway on Aug. 11 courtesy of NASCAR’s driver orientation program, reserved for elite drivers in other forms of motorsport.
Daniil Kyvat, another former F1 competitor, represents a Russian entry as he returns to the No. 26 Toyota for Team Hezeberg alongside teammate Loris Hezemans, piloting the No. 27 Ford as a native of the Netherlands. British driver Kyle Tilley is back in the No. 78 Ford for LiveFast Racing, while Trackhouse regular and Sonoma Raceway winner Daniel Suárez hails from Mexico.
Each of the 32 remaining racers is from the United States.
NASCAR Cup Series teams hit the track for practice just after midday on Saturday (12:05 p.m. ET, NBC Sports App, USA Network at 12:30 p.m. ET, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), with the 39-car field split into Group A and Group B based on NASCAR’s metric formula. Each group will get 20 minutes of practice ahead of qualifying (1:05 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Qualifying at the road course features a 15-minute timed session for each group. The fastest five in each group will advance to the second round, where those 10 drivers will fight for the Busch Light Pole Award in a 10-minute session. The fastest single lap from the second round will earn the pole position.
MORE: Qualifying groups | Paint Scheme Preview
WATKINS GLEN STORY LINES
— Kevin Harvick won each of the past two races after snapping a 65-race winless streak at Michigan International Speedway to become the season’s 15th different winner.
— Despite sitting fourth in the regular-season points standings, Martin Truex Jr. is currently out of the playoffs, trailing Ryan Blaney by 26 points for the final available position.
— Truex has four straight top-three finishes at Watkins Glen, including a win in 2017.
— Chase Elliott can secure the Regular Season Championship by leaving Richmond with a 61-point lead over second place. Blaney currently holds the second spot and trails by 116 points.
— Ryan Blaney has earned 53 more points than Martin Truex Jr. in the four races on road courses in 2022.
Source: Racing Insights
Goodyear held a tire test at the 2.45-mile road course in May where Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. helped the tire company learn what compound to use for this weekend’s race.
The end result features the same tire codes used at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with one code used on the left-front and right-rear positions and another code on the right-front and left-rear spots, the former of which was used on all four corners of the car at Circuit of The Americas.
“With this Next Gen car, with the bigger, wider tire, we’ve been able to go a little ‘softer’ with our tread compounds almost across the board,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear‘s director of racing. “When we had just the two road courses on the Cup schedule – those being Watkins Glen and Sonoma – both tracks were dramatically different and required distinct tires. Now, with six road courses on the 2022 schedule, Sonoma is still on its own due to it being much more technical, but Watkins Glen falls more into line with some of the other tracks. The Glen is on the high-speed end of the scale among the road courses, but this 18-inch bead diameter tire – which is about an inch-and-a-half wider than the previous, 15-inch tire – has enabled us to give the teams a good step up in grip this weekend.”
DEEP RACING ROOTS AT THE GLEN
— Watkins Glen was constructed at its current location in 1956 but had its real beginning in 1948 when a Cornell University law student from Ohio, Cameron Argetsinger, acquired a sports car but had no place to race it. He designed a 6.6-mile circuit comprised of public roads in the Village of Watkins Glen where his family owned a cottage.
— He convinced the Chamber of Commerce of the Village of Watkins Glen and nine other agencies to hold the first post-World War II street race in the country. The annual race on the public roads at the tip of Lake Seneca was hugely successful from 1948-1951 drawing a large field of cars, large crowds and premier drivers.
— After a few years of racing at a temporary course, a permanent facility was built in the town of Dix, which borders Watkins Glen. Engineering professors from Cornell designed the 2.3-mile layout and specified the pavement. The first professional race was a NASCAR Grand National (Cup) race held on Aug. 4, 1957. Buck Baker led all 44 laps in the caution-free race beating Fireball Roberts by nearly half a mile. They returned in 1964 and 1965 on the annual ‘Northern Tour.” Billy Wade won 1964, Marvin Panch 1965.
— Watkins Glen has hosted nearly every major United States sanctioning body and professional racing series: NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, ARCA, Can-AM, Trans-AM, NASCAR Busch North and K&N (now ARCA East), NASCAR Modified, NASCAR Trucks, IMSA Firehawk and Camel GTO, CART, IndyCar, NASCAR Grand-Am, Formula 1, Formula 5000, IMSA and others.
— In 1961, the track ran the first of 19 Formula One races that ended after 1980 due to deteriorating track conditions not meeting F1 standards.
— In 1992, the Inner Loop Chicane was added giving the track its 2.45 distance. In 1997, International Speedway Corporation became the sole owner of the facility.
ODDS ARE …
With two victories and a runner-up finish in his last three Watkins Glen starts, Chase Elliott should be one of the least surprising favorites this weekend, entering at 5-1 odds, according to BetMGM.
The 2020 Cup champion scored his first career win on the New York course in 2018 and is, in total, a seven-time road-course winner. Elliott’s still looking for his first of the Next Gen era, however, despite finishing runner-up at Road America.
And that brings us to whom he finished behind — Tyler Reddick. The Richard Childress Racing driver has won each of the past two road races (Road America, Indianapolis) for his first career Cup victories and enters with the second-best odds to win Sunday (6-1). Kyle Larson, the defending Watkins Glen winner and series champion, is listed at 8-1 odds.
Perhaps one sleeper to watch this weekend will be Chris Buescher (20-1). Coming off a third-place finish at Richmond Raceway, Buescher touted notable speed in the May tire test that has made the No. 17 Ford a factor in road races this season. The 2015 Xfinity champion finished runner-up to Daniel Suárez at Sonoma, placed sixth at Road America and rallied from an early fire to finish 10th at Road America.
MORE: Complete list of odds for Sunday
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The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (876), Ryan Blaney (758) and Martin Truex Jr. (735).
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ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
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