Watkins Glen is the fifth road course race of the season. Once upon a time, it was the second and final road course race — there are still two more road course races after this weekend. With NASCAR’s change in direction, new stars have emerged but has the betting market adjusted?
The payout isn’t great, but it pays better than zero — which is the likely result of picking another driver to win. Watkins Glen was cancelled last season, but in the last race at The Glen, Elliott led 80 of the 90 laps on his way to victory. He ran a mistake free stage 3 and held off one of the best, if not the best road course driver, in Martin Truex, Jr. In 2018, Elliott led 52 of 80 laps and just like the 2019 race, he made Truex the runner-up.
This season, Elliott has proved that he is the best road course driver in NASCAR and Truex will play second fiddle at the crooked courses. Elliott should have won the Daytona Road Course race in February, but a controversial caution flag in stage 3 cost him the win. However, the breaks went his way at COTA. He avoided wrecking in the monsoon and was leading when NASCAR decided to end the race early. He then went on to finish second at Sonoma behind a red host Kyle Larson. Finally, he won the inaugural Cup race at Road America by leading the most laps (24) after starting in 34th place. And for good measure, he has two wins at the Roval in Charlotte (2019 and 2020) and he won the first ever NASCAR Cup race at the Daytona Road Course (2020).
In the last race at The Glen, no one could get by Chase Elliott. Truex was the only driver that could run with him, but not by him. In stage 1 of that race, Byron was keeping pace with Chase Elliott, but then things fell apart. Kyle Busch dumped William Byron as payback for an incident earlier in the race, and Byron’s then crew chief Chad Knaus ordered Byron to retaliate during the stage break. Byron complied, but in doing so, he destroyed the front end of his own race car and ended any chance he had of running up front. At Sonoma in 2019, Byron was a contender, but Chad Knaus chose to stage point race and forfeited track position twice. Byron earned a lot of points, but his 19th place finishing position does not reflect the quality of car or the talent of the driver. When mistakes are not made, Byron is easily a top 10 road course driver. The Hendrick Chevys have been dominant at road courses over the last several years, and especially this season. Byron is one late race caution and one wild restart heading into turn one, away from winning at The Glen.
It’s true that Chris Buescher's finishes at road courses are inflated by strategy, mainly pitting before the end of stages, but that’s only half of it. Buescher doesn’t pass his way to the front, but he also does not get passed when up front. As long as he doesn’t wreck or suffer a mechanical failure, then he’s a very safe pick to finish inside the top 20. All Buescher has to do is out race a handful of average drivers that are in weak equipment. He’s just as safe as the big team drivers, but with a lot better pay out. In the last 15 road course races, he’s earned 15 top 20 finishes. Back when he won the Xfinity championship in 2015, one of his two wins was at a road course.
This is simple — the SHR Fords are struggling this season and the RCR Chevys are fast. SHR could be focused on the Next Gen Car and the 2022 season or it could be personnel changes — the SHR stable of drivers has been in flux over the last couple seasons and shop members have moved on to other jobs outside of NASCAR. Meanwhile, RCR is working hand in hand with Hendrick, and their Chevys are top-10 cars at every track. Dillon is not known as a road racer, but neither is Cole Custer. Over the last three road course races, Dillon’s worst finish is 13th. Custer finished 17th, 20th and 36th over that same span. This is not so much a driver pick, but an organization pick. Dillon is competitive because he’s in great equipment. Custer hasn’t figured out Cup ovals, let alone Cup road courses, but more importantly, his team is not consistently building fast race cars.
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