Go Bowling at the Glen Preview: Return to the Road Course

Go Bowling at the Glen Preview: Return to the Road Course

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend the Monster Energy Cup Series visits Watkins Glen International for the next road course race in the schedule with its annual running of the Go Bowling at the Glen. This circuit is an 11-turn, winding road course with many long straights terminated by hair-pin turns. The event is 90 laps on the almost 2.5-mile course. Top speeds are close to 160 mph which is very unusual for a typical road circuit, and this is due mainly to the long straights that occur at three places on the track. Horse power and aero-handling are key factors for this race, so it's a bit different than the other road courses in NASCAR. As the drivers barrel down the straights and into sharp corners, we see more than a few go off course as they attempt aggressive braking and accelerating maneuvers to make the pass. The teams that can stay on the course and out of the gravel traps or grass will collect a good finish this Sunday at the Glen. Over the last few seasons we've seen NASCAR racing on the road circuits turn from more of a finesse game and into a fender-beating battle similar to what you would see on the series' short tracks. Aggressive driving is essential to victory, but qualifying up front on the starting grid is even more important. The drivers who get good starting spots are often the ones seen hoisting the trophy at the end of the day at Watkins Glen International. Making
This weekend the Monster Energy Cup Series visits Watkins Glen International for the next road course race in the schedule with its annual running of the Go Bowling at the Glen. This circuit is an 11-turn, winding road course with many long straights terminated by hair-pin turns. The event is 90 laps on the almost 2.5-mile course. Top speeds are close to 160 mph which is very unusual for a typical road circuit, and this is due mainly to the long straights that occur at three places on the track. Horse power and aero-handling are key factors for this race, so it's a bit different than the other road courses in NASCAR. As the drivers barrel down the straights and into sharp corners, we see more than a few go off course as they attempt aggressive braking and accelerating maneuvers to make the pass. The teams that can stay on the course and out of the gravel traps or grass will collect a good finish this Sunday at the Glen. Over the last few seasons we've seen NASCAR racing on the road circuits turn from more of a finesse game and into a fender-beating battle similar to what you would see on the series' short tracks. Aggressive driving is essential to victory, but qualifying up front on the starting grid is even more important. The drivers who get good starting spots are often the ones seen hoisting the trophy at the end of the day at Watkins Glen International. Making green-flag passes here is difficult, so start up front and finish up front is the key to success at the Glen.

Since the Monster Energy Cup Series races at Watkins Glen only once a season, we don't have a lot of statistics to go on this weekend. Fortunately, NASCAR keeps good loop data on the various tracks and these numbers will come in handy for this event. As the loop data will show, the drivers who typically do well at Watkins Glen have a history of racing well at this fast, rolling facility. We'll take a look at the last 13 races at Watkins Glen and examine these numbers closely when forming our prognostications for the Go Bowling at the Glen. The following table has the loop stats from the last 13 years or 13 races at Watkins Glen International.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Daniel Suarez3.01111486113.1
Kyle Busch9.8270125216884110.7
Brad Keselowski10.813166114536102.8
A.J. Allmendinger9.3167235855697.1
Martin Truex Jr.12.1247383077195.8
Kurt Busch14.7253536477093.4
Jimmie Johnson15.4239311682093.0
Erik Jones10.016006892.2
Chase Elliott13.0288911291.5
Kevin Harvick15.2202226569789.7
Denny Hamlin17.7234151067587.4
Joey Logano14.012216945085.1
Matt Kenseth12.31857267084.6
Clint Bowyer14.31437156583.0
Jamie McMurray19.6176101262882.6
Kyle Larson17.04215021082.0
Ryan Blaney13.517229579.9
Ryan Newman19.12097950073.9
Kasey Kahne21.21843341370.1
Paul Menard21.81262030165.2

In its Monster Energy Cup history, the Glen has been won from the front three rows 25 times in the 35 total races run to-date. That factors out to a whopping 71-percent of the winners coming from the first three starting rows. The pole winner has collected nine of those 35 wins. In fact, no winner of this race has started worse than 18th on the grid, so qualifying well is extremely important at this winding road course. The winner of this race one year ago, Martin Truex Jr., started third on the grid, so he was yet another example of this Watkins Glen phenomena. The Furniture Row Racing star started up front and raced there much of the day en route to his first-career Watkins Glen victory. As far as setting your weekly fantasy racing lineups this Sunday, you can take a long look at pole-qualifying this Friday and it will be a good indicator of what to expect in this race.

With the recent retirements of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch is now the active wins leader at Watkins Glen with two total victories. Busch's glory at the New York road course is a story of dominance over roughly the last decade. He won the 2008 and 2013 installments of this event, and he cracks the Top 10 at this circuit at an eye-popping 85-percent rate. Coming off the big Pocono win and sixth victory of the season last weekend, Busch is visiting the perfect track to get a win streak going for the No. 18 Toyota team. The biggest threats to Busch this Sunday are likely Martin Truex Jr., and Stewart Haas Racing star Kevin Harvick. The pair are past Watkins Glen winners and both are racing extremely well entering this weekend's event. Outside of that duo, A.J. Allmendinger gets a fantasy racing upgrade this weekend. He won this event four years ago, and he won the pole here in 2015. In last season's Watkins Glen battle, Allmendinger finished a respectable ninth after 90 laps around the New York road course. The driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet carries that homerun threat with him each time we visit a road course, especially the Glen. We'll take a look at the loop stats, recent history at the Glen and even look at this season's road course race at Sonoma to help give you the road racing experts to conquer your fantasy racing leagues this weekend.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch - The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team came through in the clutch last weekend, and Busch grabbed his sixth victory of the season at Pocono. He's on a roll coming to the Glen. The veteran driver won this race in 2008 and 2013, and he's a three-time pole-winner at the New York road circuit. Busch has led well over 200 laps in his 13 Watkins Glen starts, so he knows what it takes to run up front here. This is a race track for aggressive drivers, and that's exactly what Busch is without a doubt. Considering his lofty 39-percent Top-5 rate at this facility, we have to give top contender status to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team for this Sunday afternoon at the Glen.

Martin Truex Jr. -
In what has been a great season for the driver of the No. 78 Toyota, the tracks that bring out his best get our upmost attention. Truex proves to be a very worthy fantasy racing play on his better tracks. The Watkins Glen road course has yielded some good finishes over his Monster Energy Cup career. Seven of his 12-career starts at this facility have netted Top-10 finishes (58-percent). Truex grabbed his first-career victory at the Glen in this event one year ago, so he's the defending event champion entering this weekend. Add to that fact that the Furniture Row Racing star won at the Sonoma road circuit earlier this summer, and you have a potent combination for the Go Bowling at the Glen this weekend.

Kevin Harvick -
Currently riding a three-race Top-5 streak and coming off a fourth-place finish at Pocono, Harvick will set his sights to win on the 11-turn road course in New York. It's been a track of mixed results over the years for the Stewart Haas Racing star. Harvick has eight-career Top-10 finishes in 17 starts which work out to a steady 47-percent rate. His latest efforts have been less than encouraging with 32nd- and 17th-place finishes the last two years at the Glen. The road courses haven't been the greatest venues for the driver of the No. 4 Ford, but we have to remember what Harvick did earlier this summer at Sonoma. He led 35 laps and finished runner-up to Truex in that race. He also has a 2006 victory to his credit at Watkins Glen International. There's no doubt that Harvick possesses the skills and motivation to win Sunday's battle in the rolling hills of New York.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing star is riding in cruise control coming to Watkins Glen. Not out of complacency, but his 12 Top 10s has him well positioned in the driver standings at fifth-place overall. Busch is a great road course driver as his Sonoma and Watkins Glen resumes will attest. While he only has one pole position and eight Top 10s at the New York road course in 17-career starts, his success has come more recently at the facility. The driver of the No. 41 Ford has four Top 10s and an 11th-place finish in his last five starts at the Glen coming into Sunday's battle. Busch qualified 23rd- and finished sixth-place at the Sonoma road course earlier this summer. That type of road racing skill makes him a dangerous competitor on these winding circuits.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Clint Bowyer - Bowyer is what we consider to be a proficient road course driver. The career statistics between Sonoma and Watkins Glen tell the story. Since returning to a good race team two seasons ago, he's become relevant again on these winding circuits. Bowyer raced to a third-place finish at Sonoma in June of this year. Now he'll look to equal that performance in the Go Bowling at the Glen. The Glen has yielded five Top-10 finishes in Bowyer's last nine starts at the facility. While he's never been a major threat to win here nor a lap leader, the veteran has been steady in his performances and finishes. He's only finished off the lead lap once in his 12-career starts at the Glen, and his 14.2 average finish speaks of his consistency at this tough track. Bowyer could register a career-best Watkins Glen finish this Sunday afternoon.

A.J. Allmendinger -
The not-so-obvious fantasy racing play this week is Allmendinger and his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team. Allmendinger's Watkins Glen stats are pretty stellar, he won this event four years ago and he has six Top 10s in nine-career starts at the New York road course. More recently, he started seventh on the grid in last year's event and finished ninth at the conclusion of 90 laps on this tough circuit. In the road course race at Sonoma earlier this season, the veteran driver qualified fifth on the grid and showed really good speed (led 5 laps) before running into trouble and suffering an engine failure. Allmendinger can wheel a stock car around a road course. There's no doubt about that. Let him prove it to you this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star is looking to rebound from a couple poor finishes at Loudon and Pocono this weekend. Watkins Glen should be just what the doctor ordered for this driver and team. With eight-career starts at the Glen, Keselowski has some pretty impressive numbers for a short resume. After a 20th-place finish in his debut in 2010, he claimed runner-up finishes in his next three-straight starts at the New York road course. More recently Keselowski has seventh- and third-place finishes in two of his last three starts at the Glen. It's clear that the driver of the No. 2 Ford likes racing at this venue much more than the road course in California, and the statistics bear this out.

Chase Elliott -
The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a pretty good outing at the California road course back in June. Elliott qualified third on the grid and finished fourth at the challenging Sonoma road circuit. It was a somewhat surprising performance for the No. 9 Chevrolet team. Elliott will now look to copy that success at the Watkins Glen course. He owns a pair of 13th-place finishes at this facility in his only two starts. He's riding a two-race Top-10 streak into this weekend, so momentum is clearly on Elliott's side. The young driver has won one pole position and led 48 combined laps in the last four events, so Elliott is racing about as well as he has all season coming into this event.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Watkins Glen who can provide a solid finish

Denny Hamlin - For a long time Hamlin's efforts at the Glen amounted to little more than frustration. He scored Top-10 finishes in his first four starts at the challenging road circuit, but then he experienced a power outage of titanic proportions. Hamlin only cracked the Top 20 once from 2010 to 2015 at the Glen. It was an almost improbable cold streak. However, the Joe Gibbs Racing star put that squarely behind him with an impressive first-career victory at the track two seasons ago. Hamlin returned last season and defended his turf well grabbing an impressive fourth-place finish. His last two efforts have boosted his Top-10 rate at the Glen to a strong 50-percent career rate. Earlier this summer the driver of the No. 11 Toyota added to his road course success with a Top-10 finish at Sonoma. He should be on point for this battle at Watkins Glen.

Joey Logano -
Logano has a short but successful resume at the Glen. He has one victory (2015) and has four Top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the New York road course. The Penske Racing star is coming off a frustrating Pocono performance, but should rebound nicely at Watkins Glen. The No. 22 Ford team has always brought fast cars to this New York road course, and Logano has always been skillful in piloting them. His 14.0 average finish across those nine-career starts are evidence of this road racing skill. Logano is looking to shore up his points position for the Chase as the regular season winds down. All indicators point towards a strong performance in Sunday's race at the 11-turn road course.

Aric Almirola -
We'll toss the historic records out the window for this veteran driver. Almirola has never been known for his road course expertise. However, that didn't stop the driver of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Ford from picking up an impressive eighth-place finish at Sonoma Raceway earlier this summer. That was Almirola's first-career Top 10 in seven starts at the California road circuit, and a good reason to reexamine our stance on his road racing performance. Now he comes to New York looking to achieve a similar first as this road circuit. Almirola has been a 24.6 average finisher at the Glen since the 2008 season. We're willing to bet he bucks that trend and grabs yet another surprising Top-10 finish.

Erik Jones -
With five Top 10s in the last six events entering the weekend, the No. 20 Toyota team is riding high coming to Watkins Glen. The really good news is that Jones was very impressive here last season in his Cup debut at the New York road course. He qualified sixth on the starting grid and used that good track position to peddle to a solid 10th-place finish one year ago. To further bolster the young driver's road course resume, Jones qualified mid-pack at Sonoma earlier this summer, but it didn't deter him from finishing a surprising seventh at Sonoma Raceway. Considering how well this young driver's skills are progressing, it's difficult to bet against Jones and his Joe Gibbs Racing team this weekend.

Daniel Suarez -
The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster was lights out at Pocono Raceway this past weekend, and it grabbed our attention. Suarez nabbed his first-career pole position, and then went out and raced in a crazy 400-mile spectacle to finish runner-up to Kyle Busch. It was his first genuine brush with a potential victory. Suarez will be very confident coming to the Glen this week. He totally mastered this road circuit last season as a rookie. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota qualified fifth and finished a stellar third in this event one year ago. To a certain extent Suarez seems to possess better road racing skills than oval racing skills at this point in his career. Pocono was a great warmup for the action he'll see this week in the Go Bowling at the Glen.

Matt Kenseth -
We normally don't think of Kenseth when it comes to road course racing, but his stats at the Glen have been turning positive in recent years. Since 2013 he's been reversing career trends at this track. The style of racing at this facility differs from most road courses and it plays better to Kenseth's strengths as a driver. Kenseth rides a four-race Watkins Glen Top-10 streak into Sunday's action at the Glen. That's boosted his career Top-10 rate at the winding circuit to a more respectable 44-percent. He rides a three-race Top-20 streak into the Glen, and that's miles beyond where the No. 6 team was performing before Kenseth's arrival. He should certainly challenge the Top 15 at the winding New York road course.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Blaney - Blaney is a very skilled young driver. Certain tracks are right up his ally, and others are more of a challenge. Watkins Glen could prove to be the latter. Blaney's 19th- and eighth-place finishes at the Glen are a wide swing over a small statistical sample. That makes it difficult to project a solid performance this week. Earlier this summer, the driver of the No. 12 Ford found the running rough at the Sonoma road course. Blaney ran into some serious trouble and finished 34th, six laps down to the leaders. That's a noteworthy race to examine. That brings Blaney's average finish on road circuits to 18.6 in five starts. That's his second lowest average among the various track types. It's best to err to the side of caution this weekend, and save a start for Blaney on a cookie cutter oval.

Kyle Larson -
The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has fallen on some hard times of late. The last two races Larson has been disappointing and he has finished 12th- and 23rd-place at Loudon and Pocono. The urgency to rebound this week at Watkins Glen will be high, but it will be a tall task. Road courses have not proven to be Larson's best tracks. He had a fast car at Sonoma back in June, won the pole, and led 2 laps, but ran into trouble and finished a subpar 14th. Larson's four-career efforts at the Glen have netted fourth-, 12th, 29th- and 23rd-place finishes. That's a mixed bag to be sure. We're not ruling out a Larson rebound this weekend, but the current lack of momentum and road course history are enough to give us major pause.

Darrell Wallace Jr. -
The driver of the No. 43 Ford suffered about the worst accident of the 2018 season last weekend at Pocono Raceway. His car suffered a catastrophic brake failure and went slamming into the turn 1 wall at high speed. Wallace was slow to exit the car, and will be beaten and bruised to be sure coming into the Glen. This will be the Richard Petty Motorsports driver's first career Cup start at the challenging Watkins Glen course. Wallace has two Xfinity Series starts at the Glen, so he's not completely unfamiliar with the circuit. However, those finishes were 16th- and 29th-place efforts. Given his lack of road course experience and 29th-place finish at Sonoma a few weeks ago, we can't recommend a fantasy start for Wallace this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
While 2018 on the whole has been a decent campaign to this point for Stenhouse, he's been struggling a bit of late. Three-straight finishes outside the Top 20 are his most recent body of work. Watkins Glen has been equally tough for this sixth-season driver. His five prior starts at the Glen have netted 18th-, 20th-, 34th-, 38th- and 20th-place finishes. That's a whopping 26.0 average across the five starts. Clearly, the larger ovals, coming in at a career 19.5 average finish, are much better tracks for this veteran driver. It may be best to lay off Stenhouse and his Roush Fenway Racing team this weekend, until the young driver can get hot again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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