Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the 2021 Go Bowling at The Glen

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a two week break while the Olympics played out half a world away, the NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend with Sunday’s running of the Go Bowling at The Glen, marking a return to the Upstate New York track for the first time since 2019.

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 a number of road courses on the 2021 schedule, Watkins Glen races completely different than the others, as Watkins Glen is known for more brute speed down the long straightaways and through the turns. 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.

The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney will lead the field to the green on Sunday, with Sonoma winner Kyle Larson starting fourth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., and Alex Bowman.

Two-time defending Watkins Glen winner Chase Elliott will start 11th as he looks for his third road course win of the season.

By The Numbers

What: Go Bowling at The Glen, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 23 of 36

Where: Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York (Opened: 1956)

When: August 8, 2021

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

2019 Race Winner:  Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started on pole – 81 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Jeff Gordon – 68.126 seconds – 129.466 mph – 8/10/2014

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Watkins Glen:

  1. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 120.4
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 110.5
  3. Erik Jones – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet – 104.8
  4. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 99.9
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 99.4
  6. AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 94.4
  7. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 92.9
  8. Daniel Suarez – No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 92.5
  9. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 90.5
  10. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 90.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“Honestly, Watkins Glen is one of the most fun racetracks we go to as a driver because it’s so fast,” said William Byron. “It gives you a chance as a driver to really get through the gears and feel the speed. That is unique for a road course but fun to do in our cars. Where when we go to these road courses that other series run on, we have to brake a lot more because our cars are so much heavier. Watkins Glen just really feels like a superspeedway for road courses. It makes it fun, fast-paced and exciting as a driver, and I’m ready to get back after we’ve had a year off from there.”

Last Time at Watkins Glen

For the second year in a row, the finish of a race at The Glen came down to a battle between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex, Jr., with Elliott ultimately getting the upper hand and taking home his second straight Watkins Glen victory.

Elliott was nearly untouchable throughout the day, leading 81 of 90 laps, only giving up the lead during pit stop cycles.

“What a day, man,” Elliott said. “Such a fast NAPA Camaro, and these guys called a great race. Just stayed mistake‑free, and Martin was a little quicker I felt like those last two runs, but the track position was king, and didn’t mess up into 1 this time, so that was good, so just a huge thanks to everybody that makes that happen.

“This was the first time we’ve ever gone somewhere and sat on the pole and led the most laps and won the race. I’ve never done that in my career, and I’m sure Alan has at some point, but as a group we’ve never done that.

“I just feel like that to me is I feel like the biggest piece of the whole weekend is just knowing that we’re the type of team and the caliber of team that can go and put on those kind of performances, and those are the kind of performances you have to put on to compete with those guys that win often.”

Truex crossed the line .454 seconds in arears, but just didn’t have quite enough to get past Elliott in the end.

“I tried to do all I could,” said Truex. “Chase (Elliott), he did an excellent job just not making mistakes. All I could do was get to within two car lengths or one-and-a-half at the closest in braking. Just trying to force a mistake, but he hit his marks and his car was really fast in the key areas there where it needed to be and leaving a few of the key corners. Just couldn’t get a run on him and was just kind of stuck there. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today.  We passed quite a few cars and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.