NASCAR Cup Series returns to Watkins Glen International

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

With great anticipation the NASCAR Cup Series returns to New York’s Watkins Glen International for the 23rd race of the 2021 season, the Go Bowling at The Glen, this Sunday, August 8 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Not only has the NASCAR Cup Series been on a two-week Summer hiatus while the Olympics were held, but the series also hasn’t been to Watkins Glen International since 2019 due to restrictions and schedule changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Watkins Glen International is one of four tracks left in the regular season to decide who makes it to the Playoffs in 2021. This weekend will be the 38th running of a NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen. The 2.45-mile road course located near Watkins Glen, NY is a multi-elevational course that provides great highspeed racing.

The previous 37 NASCAR Cup Series races have produced 22 different poles winners and 23 different race winners. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International was in 1957 and won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker (83.064 mph, 08/04/1957). Over the years the series has changed the race length at Watkins Glen three times. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen was scheduled for 101.2-miles in 1957, the second race was 161.7-miles (1964) and the third race was 151.8-miles (1965). Every race since has been scheduled for 220.5-miles (90 laps).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt (1990, ’92, ‘96), Mark Martin (1993, ’94, ‘95) and Jeff Gordon (1998, ’03, ‘14) lead the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Watkins Glen International with three poles each. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in poles at Watkins Glen with two (2011, ‘17). This weekend’s starting lineup was set per Metric Qualifying and as a result Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski will start from the pole, and his teammate Joey Logano will join him on the front row. 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart leads the NASCAR Cup Series in victories at Watkins Glen International with five (2002, ’04, ’05, ’07 and ’09); one win shy of tying the series record for most road course wins at a single track at six held by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison at Riverside Raceway (). Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott (2018, 2019) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch (2008, 2013) lead all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in wins at Watkins Glen International with two victories each. Elliott is also the most recent winner at the 2.45-mile track dominating the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series event leading 80 of the 90 scheduled laps (88.9%). 

Hamlin continues to try to hold Larson off for the regular season title

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin has just four regular season races left to hold off Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship. Larson has closed the points gap to as little as two points following the second race at Pocono, but since then Hamlin has been able to open the points cushion up between the two to 13 points heading into this weekend at Watkins Glen International.

Hamlin has held the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings lead since the second race of the season at the Daytona Road Course. This season Hamlin has yet to win but has put up 11 top fives (tied for series-most this season with Larson), and 15 top 10s (tied for series-most this season with Larson and Kevin Harvick).

Larson on the other hand was 12th in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings following the second race of the season 51 points back from Hamlin. Since then, Larson has rallied off four wins (series-most) and has matched Hamlin in top fives (11) and top 10s (15) closing the points lead over second in the standings to just 13 points.

Over the next four races expect the battle between Hamlin and Larson to heat up. Not only does the winner of the Regular Season Championship get a trophy and the prestige but also 15 Playoff points to take into the postseason. 

Looking ahead to the next four races here are the career statistics for Hamlin and Larson at each track:

Watkins Glen International

Denny Hamlin has made 14 starts at the 2.45-mile road course posting one win (2016), four top fives and seven top 10s. His average finish at the track is 16.3.

Kyle Larson has made six series starts at the 2.45-mile road course putting up one top five and three top 10s. His average finish at the track is 13.7.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson will be making their series track debuts next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. It will be the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has competed on the 2.439-mile road course configuration at Indianapolis.

Michigan International Speedway

Denny Hamlin has made 30 starts at the 2.5-mile highspeed oval posting two wins (2010, 2011), nine top fives and 15 top 10s. His average finish at the track is 13.2.  

Kyle Larson has made 12 starts at Michigan accumulating three wins (2016, 2017 sweep), five top fives and six top 10s. His average finish at the track is 12.4. 

Daytona International Speedway

Denny Hamlin has made 31 starts at the ‘World Center of Racing’ grabbing three wins (all Daytona 500s – 2016, 2019, 2020), 11 top fives and 12 top 10s. His average finish at the track is 16.0.  

Kyle Larson has made 14 starts at Daytona posting five top 10s. His average finish at the track is 21.1. 

If Hamlin or Larson win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship, the winner will become just the fourth different driver in series history to win the prestigious award.  

NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Champions
RankTitlesDriversYears
12Kyle Busch2019, ’18
21Kevin Harvick2020
Martin Truex Jr.2017

Clinch Scenarios: Four races left till the Playoffs

Time is ticking for the NASCAR Cup Series competitors that have not clinched their spot in the 2021 Playoffs. Just four races remain in the regular season, including this weekend’s Go Bowling at The Glen (Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Watkins Glen International located just outside Watkins Glen, New York. Nine drivers have secured their fate into the postseason leaving seven spots still mathematically available heading into Sunday’s extravaganza. 

Already Clinched

The following nine drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Kyle Larson, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman.

Can Clinch Via Previous Wins

The following drivers could clinch if they build up enough points to ensure they will not be left out of the Playoffs due to not all winning drivers having a slot available:

If there is a repeat winner: Kurt Busch would clinch with 46 points and Christopher Bell could only clinch with help.

If there is a new winner: Both Kurt Busch and Christopher Bell could only clinch with help.

Can Clinch Via Win

The following drivers would clinch on their win alone: Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon. 

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Outlook Standings – Winless Drivers in 2021
RankDriverPointsRace WinsStage WinsPlayoff PtsPts From Cutoff
14Denny Hamlin874055283
15Kevin Harvick67300082
16Tyler Reddick5960115
17Austin Dillon591000-5
18Chris Buescher475011-121
19Matt DiBenedetto453011-143
20Ross Chastain452000-144
21Bubba Wallace426011-170
22Ricky Stenhouse Jr.424000-172
23Daniel Suarez401000-195
24Chase Briscoe #377000-219
25Erik Jones360000-236
26Ryan Preece357000-239
27Ryan Newman354000-242
28Cole Custer337000-259
29Corey LaJoie269000-327
30Anthony Alfredo #222000-374

Following the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick (16th) and Austin Dillon (17th) have found themselves straddling the postseason cutoff line with just five points separating them. Of the drivers still looking for a win this season two are former victors at Watkins Glen International – Denny Hamlin (2016) and Kevin Harvick (2006).

Chasing History: Elliott could tie Tony Stewart on all-time road course wins list

When it comes to road racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsport’s driver Chase Elliott is instantly mentioned as one of the favorites to watch, and with good reason. Elliott has won six of the last seven road course races the NASCAR Cup Series has competed at; including the most recent at Road America a few weeks ago.

With his latest foray into Victory Lane at Road America, Elliott has locked up his seventh NASCAR Cup Series road course win and with it moved solely into third all-time on the Cup road course wins list, just one win shy of NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in second with eight road course victories. NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon holds the NASCAR Cup Series record for the most road course wins in the series with nine.

All-Time Top Road Course Winners in the NASCAR Cup Series and the Tracks They Won At

Road Course WinnersTotal RC WinsSonomaWatkins GlenDaytona RCCharlotte RCCOTARoad America
Jeff Gordon9540000
Tony Stewart8350000
Chase Elliott7021211

Seven of the 2020 series champion’s 13 career Cup wins have come on road courses – Watkins Glen 2018, 2019; Charlotte ROVAL 2019, 2020; Daytona Road Course 2020; Circuit of The Americas 2021; Road America 2021. Now Elliott returns to Watkins Glen International where he has won the last two series events held at the track and is looking to get his third straight this weekend.

If Elliott were to win this weekend at Watkins Glen, he would break the tie with Kyle Busch for the most wins at the 2.45-mile track among active drivers and would become the third different driver in series history to win three consecutive races at Watkins Glen joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin (1993, ’94, ‘95) and Jeff Gordon (1997, ’98, ‘99).

The 25-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia has made four series starts at Watkins Glen International posting two wins (2018, 2019) and an average finish of 7.0.