I Love New York 355k Preview: Return to the Road Course

I Love New York 355k Preview: Return to the Road Course

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

NASCAR visits Watkins Glen International this weekend for the final road course race of the season with its annual running of the I Love New York 355k 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 which 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 the Glen. Making green-flag passes

NASCAR visits Watkins Glen International this weekend for the final road course race of the season with its annual running of the I Love New York 355k 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 which 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 the Glen. Making green-flag passes here is difficult, so start up front and finish up front is the key to success at Watkins 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 12 races at Watkins Glen and examine these numbers closely when forming our prognostications for the I Love New York 355k at the Glen. The following table has the loop stats from the last 12 years or 12 races at Watkins Glen International.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Kyle Busch10.1240103195815110.4
Brad Keselowski10.11156194454102.4
A.J. Allmendinger11.1140235847698.7
Jimmie Johnson14.3224311675995.2
Kurt Busch15.4235536468793.5
Martin Truex Jr.13.122818668391.8
Kevin Harvick15.0186216566891.5
Denny Hamlin18.9214151060887.0
Joey Logano12.81129940386.8
Kyle Larson15.0399017284.6
Clint Bowyer15.11333152082.6
Matt Kenseth13.21706258682.4
Jamie McMurray20.116691256582.1
Chase Elliott13.018103879.9
Dale Earnhardt Jr.22.917593453078.8
Ryan Newman18.62087949675.3
Kasey Kahne21.71723336269.7
Paul Menard22.21242029065.5
Danica Patrick19.8190114763.4
Trevor Bayne15.510105159.6

In its Monster Energy Cup history, the Glen has been won from the front three rows 24 times in the 34 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 34 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, Denny Hamlin, started sixth on the grid, so he was yet another example of this Watkins Glen phenomena. The Joe Gibbs 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.

Passing at the Glen can be tricky and there are only a few key points on the track that it can be easily accomplished. The drivers that race Watkins Glen well know exactly where to pounce and make their move. With the retirement of Tony Stewart at the end of last season, 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 83-percent rate. Coming off the big Pocono win and first 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 his teammate, Denny Hamlin, and Stewart Haas Racing star Kevin Harvick. The pair are past Watkins Glen winners and both are racing well entering this weekend's event. Outside of that duo, A.J. Allmendinger gets a fantasy racing upgrade this weekend. He won this event three years ago, and he won the pole here in 2015. In last season's Watkins Glen battle, Allmendinger finished a lofty fourth 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 finally got the monkey off its backs at Pocono last week. Busch won his first race of the season and snapped a 36-race winless streak. Now he can focus on lining up some more trophies. The veteran driver won this race in 2008 and 2013, and he's a two-time pole-winner at the New York road circuit. Busch has led close to 200 laps in his 12 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 42-percent Top-5 rate at this facility, we have to give a hearty recommendation to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team for this Sunday afternoon at the Glen.

Brad Keselowski –
The Penske Racing star is looking to build on the momentum he is gathering from good runs at Indianapolis and Pocono. Keselowski is coming off a Top-5 Pocono finish and looking to keep the momentum rolling this weekend. With seven-career starts at the Glen, he 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 his last two 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. However, he did finish a strong third a Sonoma a few weeks ago. Keselowski should be a challenger for the win in the I Love New York 355k.

Kevin Harvick –
Riding a four-race Top-10 streak and coming off a runner-up finish at Pocono, Harvick sets 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 16 starts which work out to a steady 50-percent rate. His latest efforts have netted seventh- and third-place finishes in two of his last three starts. The road courses haven't been the greatest venues for the driver of the No. 4 Ford, but we have to remember that Harvick did win earlier this summer at Sonoma. He also has a 2006 victory to his credit at Watkins Glen International. There's no doubt that Harvick possesses the skills to win Sunday's 355k battle in the rolling hills of New York.

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 in last season's race at the Glen. Now he returns this weekend to defend his race title. Hamlin is coming to New York at the right time. He has a victory (Loudon) and five Top-5 finishes in the last seven races. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has been leading laps and racing up front each week. This Sunday's performance should be a good defense of his race crown from a year ago.

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, he's become relevant again on these winding circuits. Bowyer raced to a runner-up finish at Sonoma in June of this year. Now he'll look to equal that performance in the I Love New York 355k. The Glen has yielded four Top-10 finishes in Bowyer's last eight 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 11-career starts at the Glen, and his 15.1 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 three years ago and he has five Top 10s in eight-career starts at the New York road course. More recently, he started ninth on the grid in last year's Cheez-It 355k and finished fourth 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 4 laps) before running into trouble and having a poor finish. 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.

Joey Logano –
Logano has a short but successful resume at the Glen. He has one victory (2015) and rides a four-race Watkins Glen Top-10 streak into this weekend. The Penske Racing star has been in the tall weeds for most of the summer, but a strong fourth-place finish recently at Indianapolis signals that his troubles may be finally passing. 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. In this event one year ago he led 8 laps and finished runner-up to race winner Denny Hamlin. All indicators point towards a strong performance in Sunday's race at the 11-turn road course.

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 moving to Joe Gibbs Racing in 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 three-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 41-percent. He also rides a current three-race Top-10 streak into Sunday's action, including 34 laps led during the span. The No. 20 team is building some momentum as the Chase approaches, and the Glen should see Kenseth extend his current Top-10 streak to four.

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

Kurt Busch –
The Stewart Haas Racing star is riding in cruise control coming to Watkins Glen. Not out of complacency, but his one win and 9 Top 10s has him well positioned in the driver standings. Busch is a great road course driver as his Sonoma and Watkins Glen resumes will attest. While he only has one pole position and seven Top 10s at the New York road course in 16-career starts, his success has come more recently at the facility. The driver of the No. 41 Ford has three Top 10s and an 11th-place finish in his last four starts at the Glen coming into Sunday's battle. Busch qualified 17th- and finished seventh-place at the Sonoma road course earlier this summer, and he should challenge that mark Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International.

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. Six of his 11-career starts at this facility have netted Top-10 finishes (55-percent). Considering that Truex had the fastest car on the track at the Sonoma road course in June before an engine failure ruined his day, we have to take him quite serious in this 90-lap battle. In this event one year ago, the Furniture Row Racing star finished seventh in the Cheez-It 355k.

Chase Elliott –
The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a pretty good outing at the California road course back in June. Elliott showed what he learned in his rookie outing at the track last season, by qualifying, racing and finishing inside the Top 10 at Sonoma Raceway. It was a somewhat surprising performance for the No. 24 Chevrolet team. Elliott had much more success last season in his Watkins Glen debut. He finished a respectable 13th in his first start at the New York road course. We expect to see this young driver find similar gains in his second start at the Glen. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Elliott, coming off a Top-10 finish at Pocono, qualify inside the Top 10 and finish there in Sunday's I Love New York 355k.

Jamie McMurray –
After a poor finish at Pocono it would be easy to discount the No. 1 Chevrolet team this weekend, but we believe it would be ill-advised. The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has tons of road course experience and he recently qualified on the outside pole and finished 10th-place at Sonoma Raceway. That didn't happen by accident for McMurray. He has 14-career starts of experience at Watkins Glen International. The veteran driver has one Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in his last four starts at the 11-turn track. McMurray nabbed a strong eighth-place finish in this event one year ago. This road circuit is a little bit better to him than the one in the California, so there's good reason for optimism.

Ryan Blaney –
The Wood Brothers Racing driver will look to rebound from his poor Pocono outing last week. The Watkins Glen road course is probably not the track that most expect the young driver would turn in a rebound performance, but it holds that potential. Blaney's Cup Series debut at the Glen was a 19th-place finish in last season's Cheez-It 355k. That was a respectable outing on a tough track for a young driver. He showed tremendous maturity in his Sonoma Raceway outing back in June. The driver of the No. 21 Ford raced inside the Top 10 much of that race before finally finishing an impressive ninth. The aggressive racing style that it takes to succeed at Watkin Glen, plays directly to Blaney's driving style.

Daniel Suarez –
The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie is really kicking it into high gear as we begin to make the downhill run towards the Chase for the Cup. Suarez rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Watkins Glen International this weekend. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has shown tremendous growth and improvement over the first half of the season. This will be the young driver's Monster Energy Cup Series debut at the New York road course, but it's not completely unfamiliar to him. Suarez made two Xfinity Series starts at the track during his brief time in that division of NASCAR. The last of those two starts yielded a brilliant fourth-place finish. Suarez nabbed a respectable 16th-place (best of the rookie drivers) finish at Sonoma Raceway in June, so he's poised to surpass that success this Sunday afternoon.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

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 has finished outside the Top 25 in both events at Indianapolis 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 9 laps, but ran into trouble and finished a disappointing 26th. Larson's three-career efforts at the Glen have netted fourth-, 12th- and 29th-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.

Jimmie Johnson –
Johnson and the No. 48 team are looking to shake off some recent bad luck and rebound to the Top 10 at Watkins Glen. It's going to be a tough task considering that he has only one Top 10 in the last six races. Johnson has posted some good performances at the New York road course over the years. He has two pole positions and eight Top 10s in 15-career starts at the facility. Johnson's 53-percent Top-10 rate at Watkins Glen is well above the norm for most drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series. However, his current battle with bad luck and poor-handling cars has to be in the back of your mind entering this 90-lap battle. Johnson's last three Watkins Glen outings have been 28th-, 10th- and 40th-place finishes. That's less-than-assuring entering Sunday's I Love New York 355k.

Kasey Kahne –
The tough season continues for the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet. Kahne, despite his surprising Indianapolis win, and respectable 11th-place finish this past week at Pocono, is probably a driver to avoid at Watkins Glen. Sure, there are signs of a comeback inside this team and driver, but the Glen may put that brakes on that at least for one week. Kahne has 13-career starts at the New York road course, and he's never cracked the Top 10. In fact, he's only cracked the Top 15 four times in those 13 starts. The average finish is checking in around 21.1, and that's real close to where he finished in this event one year ago (20th-place). There are better days ahead for Kahne and the No. 5 team, but give them a break at Watkins Glen International.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. –
While 2017 on the whole has been a good campaign to this point for Stenhouse, he's been struggling a bit of late. His crash and DNF at Indianapolis was followed by a somewhat decent 16th-place finish at Pocono last week, but it was well below the 11th-place finish he posted at Pocono in June. The Sonoma road course was a tough day for the No. 17 team. Stenhouse crashed and finished 38th in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Watkins Glen has been equally tough for this fifth-season driver. His four prior starts at the Glen have netted 18th-, 20th-, 34th- and 38th-place finishes. That's a whopping 27.5 average across the four starts. 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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