The last time for the NASCAR Cup Series on a street course, chaos reigned regularly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s first turn, a hard 90-degree right hander. Sunday’s next round, on the twists and turns of New York’s Watkins Glen International, has some similarities on paper, but also some key nuances that could quell some of the confusion.
When Go Bowling gets the green flag at The Glen on Sunday (3:00 p.m. ET, USA, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the field will sort itself into another right-hander nicknamed “The 90.” . But instead of a super-wide front stretch that narrows into a tight corner, Watkins Glen has slightly less room to run, which will likely curb widespread fanning out.
“Not that much, but I think Watkins Glen definitely has the opportunity,” said Joey Logano, a winner at the Glen at a weekend sweep in 2015. “I think what happens in Indy is you do six lanes Race room have funnels down in about two, maybe three. And so you are forced to do something. It kind of puts everyone in a bad position because if you don’t do something, someone will. So either you take it or someone takes it from me. So that’s a recipe for disaster in a way, and cars are pretty durable, so now everyone’s okay with bumping and hitting. So it just gets kind of messy.
“The same could happen at Road America, but it’s not happening. Why? Because the route is only three lanes wide and you can’t drive four lanes. There’s no space – like you’re on the grass. So that prevents it. Watkins Glen is similar. Three wide is… you can get four, but that’s going to be a bit tight, isn’t it? Probably not many do that. But three will definitely happen down there. There’s more room for that.”
A late restart at last month’s Indianapolis race was boiling point for several drivers. Tyler Reddick avoided the Turn 1 clutter en route to his second Cup Series win of the season, but several other competitors with road racing pedigrees did not.
The pace of Watkins Glen’s first corner, where drivers carry more speed through the corner, may also help with some of these concerns. The New York course transitions slightly to the right at Turn 2 and then carries momentum through the Esses up the hill; In Indy, that first melee right transitions into another sharp 90-degree left run in the more technical infield.
“I mean, I guess it’s a 90-degree Turn 1, but just a lot different, a faster turn,” said points leader Chase Elliott, a two-time Watkins Glen winner whose day at Indy is torpedoed by the late restart became riot. “The run-up to your restart at Watkins Glen is just so, so much different. This approach to Turn 1 doesn’t require everyone to be stupid, so I don’t think it’s going to be quite that bad. And like I said, I think the pace of the track will correct most of what you saw there at Indy.
“I feel like if you talk about the aggression on the road, we had two circuits with very inviting Turn 1, you know,” said rookie Austin Cindric, a former Glen winner in the Xfinity series. “This is COTA and Indy. I don’t remember really having a conversation about driver standards after Sonoma and I’m sure the Roval will be the same and I expect Watkins Glen to be somewhat similar to those racetracks. Even Road America, which is a pretty tight circuit, you can’t really pull the Seven-Wide into a corner there.”
Watkins Glen hosts the penultimate race of the regular season as the hunt for Cup Series playoff placement comes to an end. 15 riders have practically clawed their way into the postseason with wins so far, and Ryan Blaney is 26 points clear of Martin Truex Jr. as the battle is currently on for the bottom of the 16 field.
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The four road races so far this year have all been won by Chevrolet drivers – the first two shared by Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain (Circuit of The Americas) and Daniel Suárez (Sonoma) and the last two won by Richard Childress Reddick from Racing (Road America, Indy).
Truex – another casualty of the Turn 1 turmoil at Indianapolis – has a solid recent history that looks promising for a rebound from Watkins Glen, with four consecutive top-three finishes there. But the driver of the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing hinted after last weekend’s race at Richmond that the Chevy camp’s road success with the next-generation car model would be a stumbling block.
“Any other year, I’d be happy to go there,” Truex said. “But with this car, our worst tracks this year have been street circuits, Toyota in general. So none of us were good. We couldn’t figure out how to brake, how to get the car to brake and then still exit the corner and vice versa. We can only get one or the other. We can’t have both. The Chevys are destroying us.”