Watkins Glen Preview
August 1, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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Joe Gibbs Racing has won 11 of the 21 races this season giving the appearance that the NASCAR Cup Series doesn't have much parity. And while that may have been true early in the season, things have leveled off to the point where we have seen a different winner in the last eight races. Could Sunday's race on the road course at Watkins Glen International be the ninth straight different winner?
It's going to be tough because the top three favorites posted by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook have all won within the last eight races and they all happen to be drivers from the JGR stable. Kyle Busch (5/2) and Martin Truex Jr. (7/2) each have a series-leading four wins on the season and they also lead all active drivers with four wins each on road courses. Denny Hamlin won at Watkins Glen in 2016 and is 10/1 to win. He comes off a Pocono win last week, his third victory of the season.
Those are the same three drivers that finished in the top-five at the other road course at Sonoma in June with Truex winning, Busch in second, and Hamlin fifth. The fourth leg of JGR -- Erik Jones -- was eighth and the fourth-place car driven by Matt DiBenedetto uses JGR equipment. Great road course drivers mixed in a great road course set-up on all their cars make it easy to understand the top three favorites.
But maybe things will be different than what we saw at Sonoma just because the tracks are completely different with Watkins Glen being much faster. The top qualifying speed at Sonoma was 95.712 mph by Kyle Larson while last year's pole winner at Watkins Glen was Hamlin at 125.534 mph.
“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 of 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."
Busch has two wins at Watkins Glen and his 247 laps led are the most among active drivers, but his last win there came in 2013. So there's that if looking to check off the favorite from your betting strategy. But just know that he always gets to the front. He's led laps in nine of his last 11 starts at the Glen.
The other favorite, Truex, is a hard sell to keep off your betting portfolio this week. With Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart retired, he is now the best road course driver in the series. He has won three of the last five races on road courses and was runner-up to Chase Elliott last season at Watkins Glen. He's led laps in his last seven road starts. Beyond all that, he's also been the best driver using this race package with 750 horsepower winning three of the last four with it.
Hamlin has also fared well with this week's race package. None of his three wins have been with it, but he's the only driver with six top-fives in the seven races using it. Overall, he's having his best year ever averaging a 10th-place finish. And he's learned to be very good on the roads. In his last eight road courses races, he's averaged a 6.3 finish. He's got nice value at 10/1 odds.
Those are the favorites and any of them winning would halt the eight-race streak of a different winner so let's look at the best candidates to keep this streak going.
Clint Bowyer at 12/1 odds is definitely someone to look at this week. I like him not only because he's a very good road racer, but also because he desperate for a win so he can automatically qualify for the playoffs and right now he's teetering on the cut line. He won at Sonoma in 2012 for his only road course win, but his 11.6 average finish between all road courses is the best among active drivers.
“You are way more at ease at Sonoma," Bowyer said. "It’s a finesse, rear-grip, take-care-of-your-tires type of track. I think it is a much more technical track. When you go to Watkins Glen, it’s a ton of fun but it’s a whole different beast. It’s wide-open. It’s balls-to-the-wall. You have to be extremely good on braking and have a fast racecar."
Bowyer also has a series-best 5.8 average finish between the last six road courses and in 28 starts overall he has 11 top-fives which is tied for the most among all active drivers.
“Not in a million years would I have imagined this success,” Bowyer said.
Another driver that offers some decent value is Ryan Blaney at 14/1 odds. He was 12th in this race last season and then went onto win the first race on Charlotte's Roval in September. In June he finished third at Sonoma. No wins yet on the season, but his best chances have been with this week's race package finishing in the top-five of seven of those races.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (7/2)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #14 Clint Bowyer (12/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
5) #12 Ryan Blaney (14/1)