Chase Elliott primed for possible third straight win at Watkins Glen

Chase Elliott

When NASCAR resumes racing after the longest break in the schedule in three decades, we should be prepared to hand the winner’s trophy to Chase Elliott after 90 laps at Watkins Glen International, right?

After all, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion won the last two races at the 2.45-mile road course, and he’s the heavy favorite to win a third straight in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Elliott’s road course credentials are impeccable. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet picked up his first career victory at The Glen in 2018 and followed that with another win in 2019. (There was no race at Watkin Glen in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic).

All told, seven of Elliott’s 13 Cup victories have come on road courses, including both his wins this year—in the inaugural event at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, and the long-awaited return of the NASCAR Cup Series to Road America.

“We’re excited to get back to Watkins Glen,” says Elliott, who beat runner-up Martin Truex Jr. in his last two trips to The Glen. “Any time you can run well and win somewhere, it’s always nice to go back.

“Winning in the Cup Series, in general, is something to be proud of, in my opinion, regardless of where it is or who you beat. The last couple of trips to The Glen, I’ve enjoyed battling Martin. I feel like we share a lot of mutual respect and have for many years, so I have enjoyed those battles with him.”

There’s one obstacle to Elliott’s march to Victory Lane on Sunday. After finishing 18th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the last Cup event before the Olympics break, he’ll start 11th at Watkins Glen.

In the last 16 events at the historic road course in New York’s Finger Lakes District, the winner has come from the top 10 on the grid 14 times—the exceptions being Tony Stewart from 13th in 2009 and Joey Logano from 16th in 2015. Elliott’s two victories at the track came from third in 2018 and from the pole a year later.

Truex starts two positions ahead of Elliott, so the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota also will have work to do.

“I think the last two second-place finishes, it was just track position,” says Truex, who picked up his lone victory at WGI in 2017. “The 9 (Elliott) ended up in front of us, and we couldn’t pass him. That’s a really, really fast place, and it can be difficult to pass. His car was better in different spots than mine.

“From lap times, we were faster both years — I could get to him, but he was fast in the right places where I couldn’t pass him. I will have to hopefully figure out how to get faster in a few key areas.”

The three Team Penske drivers—Brad Keselowski, Logano and Ryan Blaney—will start from the top three spots on the grid, in that order. Keselowski finished second in three consecutive races (2011-2013), twice to road-course ace Marcos Ambrose and once to Kyle Busch.

Logano won at The Glen in 2015 and finished second to Denny Hamlin a year later, but in his last three starts there, he has a best result of 23rd. Blaney’s best finish was fifth in 2019, in his fourth Cup start at the track.

With the Cup debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course to follow, Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen is the first of two straight road course races and the 23rd event of the 26-race Cup regular season.

At WGI, two very important battles are set to take place. Hamlin, who is winless this year, is fighting to retain his series points lead over Kyle Larson, with 15 playoff points and an automatic playoff berth on the line for the regular-season champion.

Hamlin holds a 13-point lead over four-time winner Larson, who has clinched a playoff berth thanks to his multiple trips to Victory Lane.

At the bottom of the Playoff grid, Tyler Reddick leads Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon by five points in a heated battle for the final playoff position.

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