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● The Go Bowling at The Glen marks the fifth of six road-course races on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Harvick finished 13th in the first road-course race of the year March 26 at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, 11th June 11 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, 29th in the series’ inaugural street race July 2 in downtown Chicago, and 23rd last Sunday on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The final road-course race of the season is Oct. 8 on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.
● Harvick has made a total of 59 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 22 starts at Sonoma, 21 at Watkins Glen, five on the Charlotte Roval, three at COTA, three on the road course at Indianapolis, two apiece at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and on the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and one on the Chicago Street Course. He has scored two road-course wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 12 top-fives and 27 top-10s with 199 laps led.
● When Harvick scored his first road-course victory at Watkins Glen in 2006, he had to beat his current team owner to do it. Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – had won the previous two NASCAR Cup Series races at The Glen and was poised to capture a third straight win as he was leading Harvick with four laps to go in the 90-lap race. But Harvick, who had already led once for 24 laps, passed Stewart on lap 87 as the two drag-raced down the frontstretch and into turn one. Harvick held onto the lead despite Stewart in his rearview mirror, earning a margin of victory of .892 of a second.
● Harvick’s second career road-course win also had a connection to Stewart. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he gave Stewart-Haas Racing its second straight victory at the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course. The winner in 2016? None other than Stewart. It ended up being his 49th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory as Stewart retired from NASCAR racing at the conclusion of the season.
● Harvick’s last road-course win was his first in a Ford. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he became the 83rd different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race behind the wheel of a Ford. Harvick has now won 25 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He stands 10th on Ford’s all-time win list and is now only one win away from tying Brad Keselowski, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen for ninth. Harvick has won more races driving a Mustang (15) than any other driver since the iconic muscle car became Ford’s flagship model in 2019.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007. And two were in the NASCAR Winston West/K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and again in 2017. The 1998 win at Sonoma was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
● Compared to the other road courses on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Watkins Glen is a power track – less finesse, more get-on-the-gas-and-go. Here’s a turn-by-turn explanation of the 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course that is Watkins Glen.
● Turn 1: Once drivers take the green flag, they are immediately faced with a downhill trek into the first corner. Carrying a ton of speed down the straightaway, this is a heavy braking zone in order to get the car slowed down enough to make the right-hand turn. This is one of the best opportunities to make a pass, and this turn can get chaotic very quickly, especially on restarts.
● Turn 2: After making it through the first turn, the drivers hop on a short straight which leads them gradually uphill and into the second right-hand corner. This turn begins the ascent through the “esses” portion of the track.
● Turn 3: Continuing the uphill climb through the esses, this sweeping left-hander can be treacherous as drivers begin to carry more speed up the slope.
● Turn 4: This corner is the final portion of the esses. Drivers complete the uphill climb and the corner starts to level off, building up more speed as they enter the backstretch of the circuit.
● Inner Loop, aka the “Bus Stop”: The backstretch allows the drivers to gain a ton of momentum, which leads them into another heavy braking zone and into the inner loop, better known as the “bus stop” section of the course. Hot on the brakes upon entry, this is a great place to overtake someone before making a quick series of right- and left-hand turns. Lots of slipping, sliding and spinning happens here.
● Turn 5, aka the “Carousel”: This is a long, sweeping right-hander. Banked at 10 degrees, it is the steepest turn of the course, and it allows drivers to build up speed as they make their way onto the straightaway leading into turn six.
● Turn 6: After gaining speed while traveling down the 2,040-foot chute, drivers are approached with another heavy braking zone at the entrance of this left-hand corner. Competitors use this turn to either make a quick pass or to set themselves up for a pass heading into the final corner.
● Turn 7: Once they are through turn six, a short chute gives the drivers just enough time to adjust to make a good angle through the final corner. This is another chance to make a quality pass as the right-hand bend trickles drivers onto the frontstretch and down to the start-finish line.
In Formula One, there’s talk of classic venues like Monaco and Silverstone and their respective places on the F1 calendar. Is Watkins Glen one of NASCAR’s classic venues, at least when it comes to road courses?
“Watkins Glen is kind of a road-racing treasure in our country, just because of all the history and things that it has between the town and the track. That venue has held some great races throughout the years, and our races up there during the last decade have been full of fans and a lot of fun to see how road racing has progressed through the years. It’s fun to go up there. You get a lot of Canadians that come to that particular race at the end of their summer break and it just turns into a fun event.”
What’s a Watkins Glen moment that stands out for you?
“Watkins Glen is home to one of my favorite wins because I was able to beat Tony (Stewart). That was a fun day. Tony has always been really good at Watkins Glen and had a lot of success up there. It’s just a fast racetrack with some unique corners that determine the amount of speed that’s in the lap just because of where the car placement is. The thing that I remember about racing Tony that year is just how good he was in the braking zone going into the ‘bus stop’ in the back. He was always a good road racer and, in those years, he was getting in the Grand-Am cars and he wouldn’t even practice. He would just show up at the races and jump in the car and be competitive. That was just what he did, and he could do that in pretty much anything, and Watkins Glen was just another one of those places that stood out for him through the years where he just dominated.”
You’re still looking for a win this season. Can Watkins Glen be the place to get that win?
“Watkins Glen is a place where we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good runs, and I think going there and having a permanent road course and more of a traditional race, for me, is much easier to prepare for because I know the racetrack and I know the curbs and the bumps and the details of everything that goes on, so it makes me more comfortable prepping for the race. Watkins Glen is always a great place to go this time of year. The fans are always packed in there like sardines and it’s just a fun environment. We’re looking forward to it.”
How does the current-generation racecar perform at Watkins Glen?
“Watkins Glen and the road courses are probably the easiest places that I’ve been when it comes to adjusting in going from the old car to the new car. This particular car has a lot of road-course DNA built into it, and I think with the braking and the tires being a lot lighter and all the things that are built into the car, the road courses have really been the easiest transition just because of the fact that it was kind of leaning toward being built that way. With this particular car, there are always a lot of challenges. Running a couple of road courses back-to-back with Indy and Watkins Glen gets everybody into the road-course frame of mind. We’ll just go up there and try to put ourselves in a good position on Saturday and see where it all evolves to on Sunday.”
We’ve seen some aggressive driving on the road courses of late, and that can lead to some big accidents. What are your expectations for the kind of race that will take place this Sunday at Watkins Glen?
“You probably should expect the exact same thing. Turn one is pretty inviting to be aggressive, and with these NextGen cars you can be more aggressive than you could with the old car, just because you don’t have to worry as much about damage to the body. Everybody just gets in that aggressive frame of mind and, especially at this point of the year where you have a lot of guys who are just chasing championship points and lot of guys who are trying to get in on points, you have so many different agendas to go through and usually those agendas aren’t the same. You have people that are all pretty aggressive trying to get what they want and need, trying to put themselves in position for the end of the year.”
There are now six road courses on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. What sets Watkins Glen apart from its counterparts?
“It’s a traditional, purpose-built road course. When you look at Indy, it’s more like a parking-lot course, and Chicago was very unique in being a street course, Watkins Glen is just that traditional, old-fashioned, straight-up road course, and I think having a permanent course and being able to race on a racetrack that is built for that type of racing is something that everybody enjoys. I think every type of course has its own little niche and the way that things go and the things that people like about them. And then you add in the area, especially this time of year, where you can usually get a little bit of a break from the heat, and that’s always enjoyable. But it’s a great area, it’s a great racetrack, and I think the traditional aspect of a properly built road course is something everybody enjoys.”
How would you describe Watkins Glen?
“Watkins Glen is just a fast, fast track, and as you look at the speed that you carry at Watkins Glen, as far as corner speed, straightaway speed, I feel like it’s the fastest road course we go to with the grippiest asphalt that we go to. There’s just not going to be any corners at Watkins Glen where you blow the back tires off. You’ve just got to get the car turned and keep your momentum up to be good in the braking zones.”
Attending a race at Watkins Glen seems to be an experience. What makes Watkins Glen such a fan favorite?
“Camping. You’ve got a ton of campers up there that show up year after year, and then you’ve got all the Canadians who show up for their last summer fun, for the most part, that come down to the race. Road-course racing has just taken such a different transition in the last 20 years. Today, the road courses are some of the most attended races and some of the fan favorites just because they’re in great spots and people love to go there. Road-course racing is just thought about so much differently in today’s world because of the style of racing and the places that you can go and watch these races. They’re not your traditional oval-track site selection. They’re in neat spots and people enjoy the atmosphere, especially at Watkins Glen.”
This will be your last NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen. What are some of your top memories from the track?
“It’s definitely been a place where we’ve been fortunate to have some success racing with Tony (Stewart). I think one of my favorite moments was beating Marcos Ambrose for the pole in the Xfinity race several years back, just because road-course racing is not something that I would hang my hat on and say this is something that I’m consistently good at. Anytime that we were able to have success on the road courses and be able to have those moments has been something I’ve always enjoyed. I ran my first race at Watkins Glen in 1998 in the Truck Series and have really evolved through the years from the Xfinity cars and the Cup cars. For me, racing with Tony and getting that win and being able to enjoy that and know all the time and effort that we put into the road-racing program during those years was a lot of fun because I learned a lot and we were able to carry that through the years and be competitive. You win some, you lose some, but throughout the years, it’s been a pretty good place for us.”
The notion of road-course ringers have come back in vogue after Shane Van Gisbergen’s shock win on the Chicago Street Course. But the original road-course ringer was Ron Fellows. How successful do you think he would be in the current-generation racecar?
“Ron was really everybody’s mentor on the Chevrolet side back then, along with Boris Said. Both of those guys have had moments where they’ve helped and coached. The car leans much more toward people coming in and being able to be successful on the road course just because of what it is. Our cars were much different in that particular time as far as how you had to drive them, and how you’d have to control the wheel hop – everything that went with how the car handled. It was much more specialized as far as the car in those days. Ron was always good, and did great on the ovals, as well, in the Truck Series. He was, definitely, somebody everybody looked up to, to help kind of change the course of road-course racing – how you looked at it and the things that went with it. Because when I started, the road courses were just, ‘Ah, we have to go to the road courses so we’ll just find a car, find a motor. We’ll go out there, make some laps, and then go home.’ Now, it’s very technical and I think a lot of the things that go with it – many of the things that they pushed then, but it wasn’t as competitive in the early-2000s as it was in the mid-2000s to now. It’s at another level now with a lot of guys who are just very good at what they do on the road courses, and they’re able to come in here and adapt to the car.”