The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Watkins Glen International Speedway this week in the Go Bowling at the Glen. This is the second road-course race of the season and a great opportunity to save some allocations with our top drivers. The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
The MENCS will have the same schedule which was used last week at Pocono. There will be two practices Saturday (10AM ET NBC Sports Net and 1PM ET NBC Sports Net), followed by qualifying at 6:35PM ET NBC Sports Net). Our Driver Group Game Lineups need to be set by 8 am ET Saturday morning. The cars will go through inspection after qualifying so I expect another disaster in the inspection tent. I will wait until all cars pass / fail inspection before I post my picks late Saturday night.
Four drivers dominated the race at Watkins Glen last year. Kyle Busch won the pole and absolutely dominated every lap in Stage 1. The No. 18 car had a loose wheel and had to re-pit. Busch fell deep in the field and never regained his track position. Daniel Suarez took over the lead and led 14 laps to win Stage 2. Martin Truex Jr. took the lead to start the last Stage and led most of the laps until Brad Keselowski took the lead from the No. 78 car. Keselowski led 20 laps but in the end Truex outraced the No. 2 car on his way to Victory Lane.
Race Rewind at Pocono: I Love N.Y. 355 (2017)
Watkins Glen is a lot faster and less technical than the road course at Sonoma. Many of the drivers who are not necessarily considered road course aces can navigate the seven turns at the Glen. The track this week is built more for speed. Brakes were an issue for many of the teams last year and it will be an issue Sunday. Drivers must manage their brakes because of the high speeds generated on this fast road course. Make sure you watch the action at the “bus stop” Sunday. This is where most drivers try to make their move and where some drivers get spun out. This should be a good race and some unexpected drivers will finish up front. They always do at Watkins Glen.
Here are my picks for Watkins Glen…
Driver Group Game A Picks
The best way to score well in the Driver Group Game is to map out your starts. I looked at the tracks remaining and it would be ideal to use the “Big 3” at 12 of the 15 remaining races. The allocations I have left are: Kyle Busch (5), Martin Truex Jr. (4) and Kevin Harvick (3). After two bad weeks, I am going after the win this week. Most people in your leagues will be saving the “Big 3”. I am going to try and gain some ground on the competition by using the top two drivers in the field this week.
Martin Truex Jr. (4): Truex Jr. really found his rhythm on the road courses. The No. 78 car has gone to Victory Lane in the last two road courses (including the race at Sonoma in June) and Truex should be the favorite Sunday. Truex has also qualified in the top 3 in 2 of the last 3 races at Watkins Glen. He should be a threat to win the pole and score bonus points for your team. After Kevin Harvick won at New Hampshire and Kyle Busch won at Pocono, it should be Truex turn to go to Victory Lane, right?
Kyle Busch (5): Busch had the most dominant car at Watkins Glen last year. He won the pole and was in another zip code at the end of Stage 1. The No. 18 team failed to tighten all of the lugs at the end of the Stage so Busch came back to the pits and lost all of his track position. He later got into Brad Keselowski in the “bus stop” and ruined his day. Busch has 2 wins, 3 poles and led laps in 8 of his last 9 races at Watkins Glen. He is too good to pass up this week.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Martin Truex Jr. 2) Kyle Busch 3) Denny Hamlin 4) Brad Keselowski 5) Kevin Harvick 6) Kyle Larson 7) Joey Logano 8) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game B Picks
It will be more important to try and save allocations in Group B this week than it will be to worry about saving the “Big 3.” You only need 1 driver each week and Group A and there is plenty of talent to get you to the end of the season even if you are out of starts with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. That is not the case in Group B. There are some good “sleeper” picks this week so I am going to use them and select one road course ace as an insurance policy.
A.J. Allmendinger (8): I know it is hard to trust Allmendinger because we have been burned by him so many times on the road courses. He is a lot better at Watkins Glen than he is at Sonoma so I think we need to give him a chance. He has run 9 races in his career at Watkins Glen. Allmendinger has a 9.8 average starting position and a 9.3 average finishing position. He has only finished outside the top 10 one time in the last decade. He “should” be a safe pick this week. Allmendinger will drive the No. 23 GMS Racing car in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. The extra seat time should help him in the race Sunday.
Daniel Suarez (8): Suarez was the biggest surprise in the field last year at Watkins Glen. Suarez qualified 5th, led 14 laps, won Stage 2 and finished 3rd. That is impressive for a driver’s first time at a track. After the race Suarez said this track reminds him of the track he ran at in Mexico. This was by far the best race for Suarez last year so I will give him another chance this week. He should have some momentum after his 2nd-place finish at Pocono.
Matt Kenseth (9): I bet you were not expecting Kenseth to be on my team this week. This is a “gut feeling” pick and it has a lot to do with allocations. Kenseth is actually one of the most consistent drivers at Watkins Glen. He has finished 2nd, 10th, 4th and 9th in the last 4 races at the track. Aerodynamics do not mean as much at the road courses as they do on the oval tracks. This race is more driver dependent and I think Kenseth has enough talent to get the No. 6 car into the top 10.
Kurt Busch (2): Busch is my insurance policy this week. I really do not want to use him and I do not think I will have to. Busch is one of the best road course drivers in the sport and the No. 41 team has been running well this season. Busch has a 6.2 average finishing position at Watkins Glen in the 4 races with Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch should be a threat to win the pole and a great insurance policy if my other Group B drivers do not look good in practice Saturday.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) AJ Allmendinger 2) Kurt Busch 3) Daniel Suarez 4) Erik Jones 5) 6) Chase Elliott 7) Clint Bowyer 8) Matt Kenseth 9) Ryan Blaney 10) Jamie McMurray
Driver Group Game C Picks
Michael McDowell (6): McDowell spent a lot of his racing career driving the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Cars. Road course racing in that series has really helped McDowell run well at Watkins Glen. McDowell has finished the last 3 races at the Glenn in the top 20, including a 12th-place finish at the track last year. McDowell is my No. 1 driver in Group C this week.
Chris Buescher (5): Buescher spent a lot of time with his teammate (AJ Allmendinger) in the simulator working on his road course skills. It paid off. Buescher went from being completely lost at the road courses to being one of the more competitive drivers. Last year Buescher qualified 17th and finished 11th. He even had to make an extra pit stop because of a flat tire and he still finished 11th. Buescher should be a good pick for Group C Sunday.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Michael McDowell) Chris Buescher 3) Alex Bowman 4) Ty Dillon 5) William Byron
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Martin Truex Jr.(4), Kyle Busch (5)
Group B: AJ Allmendinger (8), Daniel Suarez (8), Matt Kenseth (9), Kurt Busch (3)
Group C: Michael McDowell (6), Chris Buescher (5)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game after qualifying Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
If you like Fantasy NASCAR, LIKE my Fantasy NASCAR Tips Page on Facebook