Battle for final NASCAR Cup Playoff spot takes center stage at Watkins Glen

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

After breaking a 65-race drought on Aug. 7 at Michigan International Raceway, Kevin Harvick goes for his third consecutive Cup victory.

An international field at Watkins Glen International includes former Formula 1 drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat, who together made up one tenth of the F1 starting grid in 2020.

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

Elliott, who has fashioned seven of his 17 career victories on road courses, is all but certain to clinch the Cup Series‘ regular season title on Sunday.

The focal point of Sunday‘s proceedings, however, will be the continuing saga of Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., who are battling for the final spot in the Cup Playoffs with two races left in the regular season.

Last Sunday at Richmond Raceway, Blaney used an 11-1 superiority in stage points to increase his lead over Truex to 26 points, despite finishing 10th to Truex‘s seventh.

Though Blaney and Truex are second and fourth in the points standings, they occupy the two sides of the Playoff bubble because neither has a win this season, and 15 other drivers do.

On paper, Truex would appear to have a decided edge over Blaney at the Glen. Truex has one victory, seven top fives and 10 top 10s in 15 starts at Watkins Glen. Blaney has posted one top five (fifth in 2019) and two top 10s in five visits to the 2.450-mile, seven-turn circuit in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

NASCAR‘s Next Gen car, however, has changed the paradigm. In four road course races this season, Truex has a best finish of seventh at Circuit of The Americas and no other result better than 13th.

“If you look at our season,” Truex said, “the road courses have been our biggest struggle, at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota as a whole. I have confidence in what I can do there (at Watkins Glen), but if you don‘t have the car to drive, it‘s hard to make up for it.”

Both Truex and Blaney can establish a claim to the final Playoff spot by winning one of the final two regular-season races, but so can currently winless drivers below them in the standings.

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

Both Elliott and Reddick have done their share of winning this season, but Reddick has asserted his dominance at the road courses. Elliott readily concedes that point.

“He‘s won the most road course (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 just look at the facts. He‘s won two of the last however many, so he‘s pretty good.”

Though Watkins Glen is a high-speed track, sometimes called the “superspeedway of road courses,” Elliott doesn‘t expect the same sort of chaos drivers recently experienced at Indianapolis.

“Entering Turn 1 (at Watkins Glen), it doesn‘t ask everyone to be dumb,” Elliott said.

AJ Allmendinger looks to extend 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 interlopers from NASCAR‘s Cup Series.

Reigning NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, Ross Chastain and Cole Custer all are entered in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Nevertheless, the 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen International may still be the special province of Xfinity Series leader AJ Allmendinger.

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

Driving for JTG Daugherty Racing in 2014, Allmendinger picked up the first of his two Cup Series victories at The Glen. In three Xfinity Series starts at the track, he finished second all three times (though his runner-up result in 2019 was followed by a disqualification for a ride-height violation).

In 22 Xfinity Series starts on road courses, Allmendinger has posted a remarkable nine victories and 18 top fives. 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 also is running the Cup race this weekend. “The crowd is always amazing, and the memories from my first Cup win will last forever.

“Ever since they repaved the track (in 2015), it‘s been a challenge for me, but with the Next Gen car in the Cup Series, it may be completely different. Hopefully, we will have two really great finishes for the weekend.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Go Bowling at The Glen

The Place: Watkins Glen International

The Date: Sunday, August 21

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

The Purse: $6,664,145

TV: USA, 2 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: Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen

The Place: Watkins Glen International

The Date: Saturday, August 20

The Time: 3 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 on Lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 82)

— NASCAR Wire Service —

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