With Kyle Busch’s win at Pocono last weekend, that now makes it ten different winners in the last ten Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, and with Watkins Glen up next, there’s a very good chance that those two numbers will be eleven after the checkered flag waves on Sunday. This is one of those tracks that we only visit once per year, and we’ve had five different winners here over the last five years. Back in June, the Cup Series ran a race at Sonoma, which is another road course, but don’t automatically assume that those who did well there are going to finish high this weekend; Sonoma and Watkins Glen are pretty different tracks, with the latter being a much faster track overall with only seven turns.
I will post my final roster for Watkins Glen on Twitter after practice is over on Saturday. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: For the second week in a row, we have a very small window of time between the end of qualifying and the start of the race. Therefore, there will be no second Yahoo! post by me this weekend. Instead, I will update the rankings and my picks in this post after qualifying. Be sure to check back.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Watkins Glen
Brad Keselowski (7 starts remaining) – There’s no such thing as a ‘sure pick’ at Watkins Glen, but Brad Keselowski is pretty damn close. He’s had two bad finishes here in seven career starts, but in the other five races, BK has finished 2nd or 3rd in all but one, and 7th in the other. It’s a fair point that Penske Racing is a bit behind right now in the engine department, but when we’re at a road course, driver talent can make up that gap. Looking back at the Sonoma race, Keselowski wound up finishing 3rd after starting way back in 23rd and leading 17 laps. He should be good for at least a top 5 finish at Watkins Glen this weekend.
Denny Hamlin (9 starts remaining) – Keep an eye on Denny Hamlin’s ownership percentage before lockdown this weekend. Historically, he hasn’t been the first driver to come to mind when it comes to road course racing, but he took the checkered flag here at Watkins Glen last year and ended up finishing 4th at Sonoma this season. Additionally, the #11 team has been on fire ever since the All Star Break, and with Denny’s 4th-place finish at Pocono last weekend, he now have five top 5s in the last seven Cup races overall. He could be a very good off-sequence pick this weekend, depending on his ownership percentage, of course.
For what seems like two months straight now, Kyle Busch is the top A Group driver heading into the race weekend. If you’re like me, though, and only have two starts left in Yahoo!, you have to go with someone else (unless the #18 Toyota looks dominant once again in practice on Saturday). Busch is a two-time winner here at Watkins Glen and has single-digit finishes in ten of his twelve starts at this track. He also finished 5th at Sonoma earlier this year. He should be good for at least a top 5 finish on Sunday.
Another driver that is consistently up front no matter what track we’re at is Martin Truex, Jr. And as far as Watkins Glen goes, he’s actually been pretty good ever since he started racing full time in the Cup Series. Truex has six top 10s in eleven career starts here. Another fast Toyota right now is Matt Kenseth, who has three straight top 10 finishes at The Glen. With that being said, the #20 Toyota isn’t putting out race-winning speed right now, and Kenseth has just one top 5 finish here in seventeen total starts.
Kevin Harvick won that race at Sonoma this year and will be a contender here at Watkins Glen this weekend as well. He went to victory lane here back in 2006 and finished 3rd in this race two years ago. The #4 Ford is another car that is a little behind on speed right now, but, as mentioned before, driver talent can close that gap at Watkins Glen.
Finally, keep an eye on Joey Logano in practice. Yes, the same Joey Logano that has just three top 10 finishes in the last twelve Cup Series races overall. Watkins Glen has a knack for producing winners ‘out of nowhere,’ and Logano has finished 2nd and 1st in the last two races at this track. Additionally, Joey has wound up 7th or better in five of his last six starts here. He wound up 12th at Sonoma earlier this year after starting back in 18th.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Brad Keselowski, (3) Martin Truex, Jr., (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Denny Hamlin, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Brad Keselowski, (3) Martin Truex, Jr., (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Denny Hamlin, (6) Joey Logano, (7) Matt Kenseth, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
My Starter: Brad Keselowski over Martin Truex, Jr.
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Watkins Glen
Clint Bowyer (5 starts remaining) – Clint ended up finishing 6th at Pocono last weekend, and that makes it four of the last six Cup races overall that he has wound up 7th or better. And if Indianapolis didn’t turn out like it did, that probably would be five of the last six. In other words, this #14 team has found some speed as of late, and that’s going to pay dividends here on Sunday. Bowyer is an established road course racer and he came home 2nd to Kevin Harvick earlier this year at Sonoma. As far as Watkins Glen goes, he has ended up 6th or better in three of the last five events, and should be able to finish within that mark this weekend as well.
A.J. Allmendinger (8 starts remaining) – You hate to just ‘go with the crowd’ in Fantasy NASCAR, but sometimes it is just the right thing to do. As far as road courses go, A.J. Allmendinger has historically struggled at Sonoma–and he disappointed Fantasy NASCAR owners yet again this season–but he’s been a pretty solid bet here at Watkins Glen. A.J. went to victory lane here back in 2014 and has wound up 11th or better in all but one of his eight career starts here. The lone exception? The 2015 race, when he started on the pole, led 21 laps, but had battery issues and ended up finishing 24th. It’s pretty hard to trust him, but Allmendinger is the best B Group option heading into the weekend, and will probably be the highest-owned B Group driver in Yahoo! this weekend.
Kurt Busch (4 starts remaining) – Kurt Busch is one of the best road course racers in the series and will be looking to try and build some momentum this weekend as this #41 team prepares for the playoffs later this year. Kurt was able to finish 13th at Pocono last weekend with an experimental setup, so hopefully that’s a good sign for this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen. He’s never won at this race track, but Kurt did finish 2nd here back in 2010 and has wound up inside the top 5 in two of the last three years here. At worst, Busch should be a top 10 pick on Sunday.
Jamie McMurray (3 starts remaining) – Another driver looking to turn things around is Jamie McMurray, who has essentially fallen off the face of the earth after getting off to a blazing fast start this season; the #1 Chevrolet came home 26th at Pocono last weekend and has now ended up 14th or worse in four of the last five Cup Series races. As far as Watkins Glen goes, McMurray should be a pretty solid pick this weekend. He finished 8th in this race one year ago and has typically been a mid-teens driver throughout his career at this track. Jamie Mac came home 10th at Sonoma earlier this year after qualifying on the outside pole.
Unless you’re still sitting with a bunch of Kyle Larson starts, there’s no need to use him this weekend. He might be good for qualifying bonus points, though, so he could be worth a roster spot; Larson qualified 2nd here at Watkins Glen last year and won the pole at Sonoma earlier this year. The reason I say there’s no need to use him here on Sunday is because Larson starts are much more valuable at other tracks, especially Michigan, where we head to next. He still has top 5 finishing potential, but so do a few other B Group options.
The same logic applies to Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney: they’re just too valuable at other race tracks. Chase finished 13th here at Watkins Glen last year while Blaney ended up 19th. At Sonoma earlier this year, the two ended up finishing 8th and 9th, respectively. They could both crack the top 10 here on Sunday as well, but it’s not guaranteed.
Another potential sleeper this weekend is Paul Menard, who wound up finishing 11th at Sonoma earlier this year. As far as Watkins Glen goes, Menard has finished between 13th and 17th in four of the last seven races. His teammate, Ryan Newman, should be good for his typical top 15 finish on Sunday. “The Rocketman” wound up 15th at Sonoma earlier this year and has finished between 11th and 16th in six of the last seven Watkins Glen races. As far as the third RCR driver, Austin Dillon, goes, he has finished 31st and 36th in the last two races here at The Glen and ran 18th at Sonoma earlier this year. He’s going to have to look pretty stout during the practices on Saturday to even be considered this weekend.
If you’re looking for a deep sleeper pick in the B Group this weekend, why not go with Danica Patrick? No, that’s not a typo. Statistically, Watkins Glen is Danica’s 2nd-best track on the Cup Series circuit, and she led 11 laps in this race one year ago. She’s also finished between 17th and 21st in all four starts at this track. What you have to like about Danica the most, though, is her momentum: Patrick now has four straight top 15 finishes in Cup Series action after last week’s race at Pocono, and has wound up 17th or better in six of the last eight.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) A.J. Allmendinger, (2) Clint Bowyer, (3) Kurt Busch, (4) Kyle Larson, (5) Chase Elliott, (6) Jamie McMurray, (7) Ryan Blaney, (8) Ryan Newman, (9) Danica Patrick, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Paul Menard, (12) Austin Dillon, (13) Trevor Bayne, (14) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (15) Aric Almirola, (16) Chris Buescher
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) A.J. Allmendinger, (3) Chase Elliott, (4) Jamie McMurray, (5) Kurt Busch, (6) Clint Bowyer, (7) Ryan Blaney, (8) Ryan Newman, (9) Danica Patrick, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Paul Menard, (12) Austin Dillon, (13) Trevor Bayne, (14) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (15) Aric Almirola, (16) Chris Buescher
My Starters: A.J. Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray over Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Watkins Glen
There are 15 races left in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, so it’s time to take a look at your allocations left for each driver in the C Group. Ideally, you want to use Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Ty Dillon exclusively for the rest of the year, but you may not have enough starts left to do that. Between those three, I personally have 13 starts left, so I need to use someone else for two of the last 15 races–and Watkins Glen and Talladega 2 are the top races to use a ‘start saver.’ Michael McDowell is the best option for that this weekend, and he might be the highest-finishing C Group driver anyway; McDowell finished 17th here at The Glen last year and wound up 14th at Sonoma earlier this year. Jones, Suarez, and Dillon haven’t raced here at Watkins Glen in the Cup Series, but they were just average at Sonoma last month, finishing 25th, 16th, and 28th, respectively. Heading into the weekend, it’s hard to bet against Suarez being the highest-finishing driver in the C Group, especially with how well that #19 team is running right now. Chances are it’s going to be him and McDowell as my two C Group choices in Yahoo! this weekend.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Michael McDowell, (3) Erik Jones, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) Cole Whitt, (6) David Ragan, (7) Landon Cassill, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Michael McDowell, (3) Erik Jones, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) Cole Whitt, (6) David Ragan, (7) Landon Cassill, the rest
My Starter: Michael McDowell over Erik Jones