As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International for Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen, road-course races have evolved from rare occasions to a vital part of the schedule for NASCAR Cup Series competitors in recent seasons.
That’s because Sunday’s race on the 2.45-mile, seven-turn Watkins Glen circuit will be the fifth of six road-course events on the schedule in 2022. For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the Las Vegas native always looked at the two traditional road courses at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen as a racing vacation for NASCAR’s top series, providing the chance to turn left and right for a couple of weekends each year. Now, with six of 36 races run on road courses, turning left and right is as important as short-track racing, which occupies six races on the schedule with two apiece at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway each year.
For Busch, the two-time Cup Series champion, Watkins Glen is one of his favorite road courses on the schedule. He’s brought home two victories, seven top-five finishes, and 13 top-10s in 16 starts there.
After his inaugural Cup Series victory at The Glen in 2008, he nearly won for the second time in his 2011 and 2012 visits before finally breaking through again in 2013. A third career victory Sunday in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes Region would continue to solidify Busch and the SNICKERS team as a contender each time the series comes to town.
As far as overall road-course proficiency, Busch is tied with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Cup Series road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. A fifth road-course win would tie him with Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the road-course wins list. The top three in all-time road-course wins in the Cup Series includes Chase Elliott and Jeff Gordon with seven apiece, while Tony Stewart is the all-time leader with nine wins.
So as Busch heads to Upstate New York for another round of road racing this weekend, he would like nothing more than to bring home a third win there, which would be a timely victory with only two regular-season races remaining before the 2022 Cup Series playoffs begin on Labor Day weekend. And Busch is certainly “hungry” for a win with his SNICKERS Camry as he looks for some momentum with the playoffs looming.
You’ve had some success at Watkins Glen. What makes it challenging and different than some other road courses you race at?
“I like going to Watkins Glen. It’s a road course, but it’s kind of a high-speed road course. The difference in the road courses at The Glen and Sonoma, you think of Sonoma as a Martinsville-type road course and you would think of Watkins Glen like a 2-mile oval, like a Fontana- 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. We’ve struggled as a company on the road courses, but we’ve gained some ground lately and thought we had a top-10 going at Indy before getting spun in the late going. So I’m hoping we can get even better at Watkins Glen and stay out of the chaos that has happened at the end of a lot of these road-course races. I really like Watkins Glen and I hope we can have another solid run there with our SNICKERS Camry.”
What is the most fun part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“To me, going through turn one and up through the esses is pretty cool and a lot of fun. It’s challenging, yet a lot of fun. As you come down the front straightaway, it’s a downhill braking zone, so you feel like you don’t have to brake as soon as you need to, but you need to in order to get slowed down for turn one. You try to stay out and get a good, hard cut to the right for turn one and accelerate out of there as quickly as you can to get set up for the esses. (You) stay wide on the left and then turn into the right-hander in (turn) two – smooth. You’re getting out of the gas but not using too much brake, just rolling off in there. As the car gets in there and loads, it actually takes a really big set because that’s when you start going back uphill. So the car will load up and that’s when you get back in the gas really wide open. And then you have to turn back to the left and be able to roll back out of it just enough to make the car bend. And then you’re back wide open again to the right-side guardrail and just keeping it tight through the right-hander that we call turn five.”
What is the most challenging part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“I’d say the most challenging thing is the culmination of the Inner Loop and the Carousel. All of that together is a lot harder to figure out how to make speed through there than just going through there traditionally. That’s an area of the racetrack a lot of guys really try to abuse. They’ll get off on the right side, get off on the left side and throw dirt up on the racetrack and then it just makes for a real mess.”
What does it take to be successful at Watkins Glen?
“At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you’ve got to pick and choose when you’re going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops, I’m unsure of. You definitely have to be good at being able to carry speed there, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part of the racetrack.”