NASCAR is back from the Olympic break as they make their return to Watkins Glen for the first time since 2019. This racetrack is one of the most exciting tracks in all the country. Every time the Cup Series comes here, it has featured some of the best racing in the business. The urgency is now much higher, considering there are only four races left before the playoffs in September. We will see a lot of drivers going for broke come Sunday, especially with the chance of rain that is in the forecast. This will be a race you won’t want to miss.
This two-week break has left a lot of drivers refreshed, considering the grueling thirty-six race schedule that we see each week. A lot of fans weren’t happy about it considering they didn’t get their racing fix for two weeks, but overall I think this is a much-needed break for all the crews and drivers around the sport. There have been talks about making this more permanent in the future, and it might not be a bad idea. This also gives the teams a good benchmark on where they are this season and what they can improve on. It will be good to see where the momentum stands going into these next four races.
One of the big storylines this week is the playoff battle and who is going to get in. We saw somewhat of a surprise winner two weeks ago when Aric Almirola took the checkered flag at New Hampshire. This led to a big shake-up in the playoffs as now RCR teammates Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick are battling for that final playoff spot. Both drivers have had solid playoff-caliber seasons, with seventeen top ten finishes between them. Both drivers have been the model of consistency all year and make a great case to be in, but with there being so many winners this year, it’s tough to know what is going to happen next. Even Kevin Harvick who sits eighty-two points above the cutline isn’t safe if he can’t get a victory. With tracks like Watkins Glen and Daytona coming up, the chances of another surprise winner is very possible. Drivers like Harvick, Reddick, and Dillon really need to get to victory lane.
While there are many candidates for a surprise winner in these next four races, there are a few that really stand out. One of those drivers is Ross Chastain. This has been a season with a lot to be excited about if you are a fan of the former watermelon farmer. He’s scored six top ten and two top five finishes including a second-place finish at Nashville behind Kyle Larson. It was announced this week that Chastain would be returning to Trackhouse racing full-time next season as well. Since we are going to a road course this week, Ross will be one to watch considering how well he has run on the other three road courses this year. Look for the #42 McDonald’s Chevy to be up front as he rolls off 12th.
The favorite coming into this weekend’s race has to be Chase Elliott. He has simply been untouchable when it comes to road course races. He has captured seven victories on road courses, including his two this season at COTA and Road America. Even when he hasn’t won, he has STILL been incredibly fast, as his worst finish in the last three road races has been second! Oh and by the way, at Watkins Glen, he’s been pretty stellar as well scoring back-to-back victories the last two times the Cup Series has been here in 2018 and 2019. It’s been a little bit of a surprise seeing the defending champion have so much success on these types of tracks considering he cut his teeth on the short tracks of the southeast. But when you look beneath the surface, it makes a more sense. For one, road racing is in his blood. Back in the 80s, Bill Elliott was just as fast on these types of racetracks when he would battle Rusty Wallace for the checkered flag. Having that type of advice to fall back on has to be worth a lot. Look for Chase to be a threat to get his third victory in a row here come Sunday.
The driver I am picking to win this week is Martin Truex Jr. This has been a bit of a tough second half of the season for the 2017 NASCAR champion, as there have been many up and down results since his last victory in May in Darlington. It just seems like they can get off to a good start, but when the race is over, they lose a lot of momentum and get a disappointing result. Take Dover this year for example, this team is coming off a victory and starting from the pole at his best track, but all they had to show for was a disparaging 19th place finish. It seems like when we get to long runs, this team seems to get left behind, but on the bright side, it’s not all bad. This week, we go to a track where Truex has been the next best car behind Chase Elliott. I think a win could be a huge momentum boost for him going into the playoffs. With the past two weeks off they might have been able to mitigate the issues they have been having. Look out for the #19 Toyota to be fast this week.