Watkins Glen 355
August 2, 2017
By Micah Roberts
Is Kyle Busch about to bust loose with a string of wins? We've seen him do it before. He just grabbed his first win of the season at Pocono Raceway on Sunday and this week he goes to the road course at Watkins Glen where he's the active leader in wins.
He became the 14th different winner on the season and the 13th driver to clinch a spot in the playoffs with only five races remaining until the 16 playoff-eligible drivers are set. A couple of those drivers fighting for one of those spots have fared extremely well on the road courses.
There's only two road course races a season, but they're nothing alike so let's not put too much into the the June 25 race at Sonoma Raceway won by Kevin Harvick. Sonoma is a much more technical course with massive elevation changes while Watkins Glen is a much faster course with longer straights.
“I like going to Watkins Glen," Kyle Busch said. "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 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. I really like Watkins Glen and I hope that we can have another solid run there with our M&M’S Caramel Camry.”
There's a special group of drivers who always excel on the roads. There's also a bunch of other drivers who don't like it when they have to make both left and right turns.
Kyle Busch is the active leader with just two wins at Watkins Glen. The reason the number is so low because we've seen 18 road course wins recently with Jeff Gordon (9 wins), Tony Stewart (8) and Carl Edwards (1). We've also seen road aces like Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya return to other racing series. To put into perspective how wide open things are now without those greats, consider only five active drivers have ever won at Watkins Glen.
Busch won at the Glen in 2008 and 2013, Harvick won in 2006, A.J. Allmendinger won in 2014, Joey Logano won in 2015 and Denny Hamlin won last year. That's it! Two of those drivers are outside looking in to the playoffs as it sits right now and this is a great spot for them to clinch a berth.
Logano, who also finished second here last season, has a win (Richmond) on the season but the points were taken away due to failing a post-race inspection. The automatic berth was also disallowed. Now he sits in the No. 18 position 69 points out of the transfer spot that Matt Kenseth currently holds.
Kenseth is one of those drivers that hates making right turns with just one top-five finish in 35 career road course starts. Kenseth doesn't have a win this season and if it stays that way over the next five races, he'll need to qualify on points. This is definitely a race where Logano, and the 17th-place driver Clint Bowyer, can gain on Kenseth. Chase Elliott is 15th and Jamie McMurray is 16th and neither of them have a playoff qualifying win. Allmendinger is way back in 27th place, but did finish fourth in this race last season.
Bowyer also believes this is a spot he can win. His best finish there was fourth-place in 2012, but I was most pleased with his sixth-place run in 2015 while driving a jalopy. His lone road course win came at Sonoma in 2012, a year he won three times, and also the last year he won a race. He's been very impressive over the past six races, which includes being runner-up at Sonoma and Daytona.
Brad Keselowski has shown to take a much better liking to Watkins Glen than Sonoma over his career. He's got a 10.1 average finish in seven starts, which includes third-place last year and three other runner-ups.
Now how about a few drivers that don't like road courses or Watkins Glen that you may want to stay clear of in your wagering strategy. This is one of three tracks Jimmie Johnson has never won on.
“Watkins Glen hasn’t been too kind to the No. 48 team or me in particular in years past, but I look at this track every year as a personal challenge," Johnson said. "The past two weeks haven’t been kind to us either, but our qualifying has improved and we are finding speed.”
You can also add Dale Earnhardt Jr. (21.6 avg finish), Matt Kenseth (one top-5 in 17 starts), Austin Dillon (27.6 avg), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (27.5 avg), Aric Almirola (25.1 avg), Kasey Kahne (21.0 avg) and Jamie McMurray (19.7 avg) into the category of drivers that would probably rather be racing on an oval this week.
The series is currently on a run of seeing 10 different winners in the last 10 races.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (8/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (12/1)
5) #14 Clint Bowyer (15/1)
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