By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After a trip to Pocono last weekend that saw Denny Hamlin score his third win of the season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stays in the Northeast as they go road course racing this weekend in Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen.
The Cup Series raced at Watkins Glen in 1957, 1964, and 1965 before returning to the track full-time in 1986, utilizing the “short course” layout initially, but after a series of violent crashes at the end of the long back straightaway, the track underwent changes with the addition of the “Inner Loop” in 1992. The series has raced in the seven-turn, 2.45 mile configuration ever since.
As one of three road courses on the MENCS schedule, Watkins Glen races completely different than Sonoma Raceway, as Watkins Glen is known for more brute speed down the long straightaways and through the turns while Sonoma is much more technical. Over the past few years, racing at Watkins Glen has put on some of the most exciting on the circuit with battles all the way down to the finish becoming the norm.
By The Numbers
What: Go Bowling at The Glen, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 22 of 36
Where: Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York (Opened: 1956)
When: August 4, 2019
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 2.45 mile, seven-turn road course
Race Length: 90 laps, 220.5 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 20 laps, Final stage – 50 laps
2018 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started third – 52 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Jeff Gordon – 68.126 seconds – 129.466 mph – 8/10/2014
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Watkins Glen:
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 111.8
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 110.6
- Daniel Suarez – No. 41 Ford – 107.9
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 101.8
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 99.4
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 97.9
- William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet – 94.5
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 92.8
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 91.1
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 89.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“I like going to Watkins Glen,” said two-time Watkins Glen winner, Kyle Busch. “It’s a road course, but it’s kind of a high-speed road course. The difference in the two road courses, you think of Sonoma as like a Martinsville-type road course and you would think of Watkins Glen like a 2-mile oval, like a California- or Michigan-type road course.
“Watkins Glen has some speed and has some wide-open spaces a little bit, but there is still a lot of great racing that happens there since you are able to out-brake people getting into the corners, or having a better run through the bus stop, or maybe getting by someone in the Carousel. It’s a fun place to race
“To me, going through turn one and up through the esses is pretty cool and a lot of fun. It’s challenging, yet a lot of fun. As you come down the front straightaway, it’s a downhill braking zone, so you feel like you don’t have to brake as soon as you need to, but you need to in order to get slowed down for turn one.
“You try to stay out and get a good, hard cut to the right for turn one and accelerate out of there as quickly as you can to get set up for the esses. (You) stay wide on the left and then turn into the right-hander in (turn) two – smooth. You’re getting out of the gas but not using too much brake, just rolling off in there.
“As the car gets in there and loads, it actually takes a really big set because that’s when you start going back uphill. So the car will load up and that’s when you get back in the gas really wide open. And then you have to turn back to the left and be able to roll back out of it just enough to make the car bend. And then you’re back wide open again to the right-side guardrail and just keeping it tight through the right-hander that we call turn five.
“I’d say the most challenging thing is the culmination of the Inner Loop and the Carousel. All of that together is a lot harder to figure out how to make speed through there than just going through there traditionally. That’s an area of the racetrack a lot of guys really try to abuse. They’ll get off on the right side, get off on the left side and throw dirt up on the racetrack and then it just makes for a real mess.”
Last Time at Watkins Glen
Just when NASCAR needed an energizing moment to get itself out of the mid-season rut it had found itself in, Chase Elliott came to the rescue at Watkins Glen by scoring his first career win in the Cup Series.
Elliott, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, has been a fan favorite since he first entered the sport and in his three seasons in the Cup Series had come agonizingly close to his first win only to fall short one way or another.
Coming into the Go Bowling at The Glen, Elliott had eight runner-up finishes, same as his famous father when he finally broke through and scored his first career Cup Series win – on a road course, no less.
His shortfalls in reaching Victory Lane in 98 previous starts have only amplified the fan reaction to seeing Elliott’s Chevrolet at the front of the field as illustrated throughout the race on the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course. The crowd went wild when Elliott took the lead and scored the Stage 2 win and as the laps wound down on Sunday, they seemed to be willing him to victory.
As Martin Truex, Jr. fell by the wayside on the final lap after running out of fuel, the crowd erupted just as much as Elliott and his team as they finally got the monkey off their back and claimed their first win on NASCAR’s highest level.
Elliott himself noted how much he appreciated the fan response in his post-race comments on the frontstretch.
“Thanks to all the fans. You guys were rowdy after that checkered flag,” Elliott said. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and I just want you all to know that. And, I am very grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s go get some more.”
The fans and his team weren’t the only ones losing their minds over the win, the majority of the Cup Series field made their way to Victory Lane after the race to congratulate the newest winner on the circuit. Elliott’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, also went one step further, pushing Elliott’s car back around to the frontstretch after he ran out of gas on the cool-down lap.
The moment was like a symbolic passing of the torch as the seven-time champion is on the back side of his career and Elliott is only a few years into his.
“I just appreciate the support and the respect on the race track,” said Elliott. “Jimmie (Johnson) has been one of my heroes for a long, long time. I leaned on him a lot over this past off season and I always lean on him, but certainly a lot throughout this off season just about the opportunities I’ve had in the past and not closing them out. He has been a big supporter of mine and that was one of the coolest things ever and I will never forget it.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, August 3
- MENCS Practice (10:35 am to 11:25 am – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (1:05 pm to 1:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (6:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, August 4
- MENCS Go Bowling at The Glen (3:00 pm – 90 laps, 220.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)