MENCS: Final Practice Garage Talk Notes Watkins Glen

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The MENCS heads to Watkins Glen International Speedway this week for the Go Bowling at the Glen. This will be the second race of the season on a road course. This track usually provides great racing and some horrific crashes. There were two practices Saturday morning. The teams will qualify Saturday evening. The race can be seen Sunday at 2 PM ET on NBC.

Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Watkins Glen…

 

Track Notes

The weather for practice was sunny and 84 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is sunny and 88 degrees. The practices had hot, slick conditions and it should be the same for the race Sunday. The practice speeds that were posted in practice should translate into race speed Sunday.

Teams were given rain tires so if it does rain Sunday, they will still race. It is not supposed to rain so they should not need the rain tires. The teams were given 3 sets of tires for the 2 practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 4 sets for the race Sunday. The Xfinity Series and MENCS will use the same tires so the drivers running both races should understand how the tires wear out during the race. These drivers include: Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon.

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: Elliott is become one of the best sleeper picks on the road courses. He finished 4th at Sonoma in June and he qualified 4th and finished 13th at Watkins Glen last year. Elliott has a 9.5 average finishing position in the last 4 road course races. “I have a really week pedal. That’s the biggest thing along with sides, right up through the esses, the carousel, it was really laying over on the left rear pretty substantially, like I had a tire down. I don’t think I did but that’s how it felt.” Elliott was 28th-fastest at the time. The team made some major adjustments. After his final run Elliott said, “It feels better now.”

Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team has been running better over the last month, but this is not the week to use “Seven Time.” Watkins Glen ranks as the worst track for Johnson. His average finishing position in the last 4 races at the track is 27th. Johnson was pretty quiet on the radio. He ran most of his laps in the top 10 and the team told MRN that they are working on their long-run speed. Chad Knaus was probably working on getting his car to work well on a strategy he has planned for the race Sunday. He is one of the best at thinking outside the box to gain track position on the road courses. After his final run Jimmie said, “We found it bossman.” He was 2nd fastest at the time.

Alex Bowman: Bowman does not have a lot of experience on the road courses. He has competed in one race at Watkins Glen and one at Sonoma since 2014. He finished 29th at Watkins Glen and 9th at Sonoma. Bowman told his team, “It is really hard to hold onto. It is way too loose. I think we missed it this week on our setup.” The team told him to bring it in and they will try something completely different. The No. 88 team spent a lot of time working on their car.

William Byron: Byron struggled in his first road course race in the MENCS. Byron qualified 8th and finished 25th at Sonoma. He did finish 10th in the Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen last year so there is some hope for him this week. Byron spent all week working with Max Papis and Ron Fellows (two road courses aces) in the simulator this week. Byron reported the car was too free in the esses. They worked to tighten him up.

Kyle Larson: Larson will be driving the No. 42 car in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Larson keeps getting better on the road courses and the extra seat time Saturday should help him in the race Sunday. Larson has competed in 6 road course races in the MENCS and he has never finished in the top 10. His average finishing position in these races is 19.3. Larson had a fast car in practice but he missed the inner loop twice in practice. He had to bring the car to a complete stop before he could continue. He will be in big trouble if he does his Sunday.

Jamie McMurray: McMurray is usually a good road course driver but he really let a lot of people down at Sonoma. He qualified 4th and lost an oil pump and finished 37th. He has been hard to trust this season. Watkins Glen does rank as the 6th-best track for McMurray so he should run well this week. McMurray liked his car. He made some long runs and said, “When I hit my marks it is really good. I am just going to work on my rhythm out here. I would not change it too much.”

Kevin Harvick: If you are looking for what tracks would be best to use your allocations with Harvick at, this is not one of them. Watkins Glen Ranks as the worst track for Harvick. He has finished 17th and 32nd in his last two trips to Western New York. Harvick did win at Watkins Glen in 2006 so there is some hope for the No. 4 team this week. Harvick fought a tight car in the practices today. He was only 19th fastest in race-trim in the morning practice. The No. 4 team started final practice in qualifying trim and Harvick posted the 7th-fastest speed and then the team switched back to race trim to dial in the car.

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is one of the best road course drivers and Watkins Glen ranks as his 2nd best track. If you take away the year Bowyer drove for HScott Motorsports, he has an 8.9 average finishing position in his last 6 races at the track. Bowyer finished 3rd at Sonoma earlier this season. Bowyer liked his car. “We got a nice hot-rod boys. I feel like I am flying out here.” He was 3rd-fastest at the time. At the end of the morning practice Bowyer said, “I feel a big vibration. I think it is in the engine. Make sure you check this out because I do not want to drop to 7 cylinders.” They switched the transmission between the practices and Bowyer thinks that fixed the car. He told MRN, “The car is really, really fast… if she would just stop leaking fluid we will be alright.”

Kurt Busch: Busch has never one at Watkins Glen but he is the most consistent driver at the track. Busch has a 6.25 average finishing position in his 4 races with Stewart-Haas Racing at Watkins Glen. Busch finished 6th at Sonoma in June. Busch made some long runs and said, “The right rear keeps dropping and dragging on the track.” The team made a rear shock adjustment.

Aric Almirola: Almirola has not been very good at Watkins Glen. He will get some extra track time this week to perfect his road course racing skills. Almirola will drive the No. 98 car in the Xfinity Series race Sunday. The switch to Stewart-Haas Racing should help Almirola this week. He finished 8th at Sonoma earlier this season. Almirola said, “Pretty tight all around. Mostly in turn 2, but we can use some work all over the track.” They brought him in and made some major adjustments.

Brad Keselowski: Keselowski will be driving the No. 12 cr in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. The extra seat time should help him in the race Sunday. Keselowski is much better at Watkins Glen than he is at Sonoma. Keselowski has never won at the Glen but he has finished half of his starts in the top 3. I am not sure what is going on with the No. 2 car. Keselowski was 21st fastest in the morning practice and ran 20th fastest in race trim in final practice. I am sure they will have more race speed than what they posted in practice but it does make me worry a bit about them.

Joey Logano: Logano will be driving the No. 22 car in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. He usually performs well on Sunday when he gets the extra seat time on Saturday. Logano said in the Media Center Friday, “We know we do not have the speed to beat the Big Three. Our team is just experimenting the rest of the regular season to find some speed for the 2, 12 and our car. We have the luxury of doing that since we are locked into the playoffs but my teammates don’t. I am doing my best to find that little extra speed that can make us a favorite in the playoffs.” It sounds like Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney are getting the best equipment and Logano is simply testing. This adds to the risk of taking the No. 22 car. Logano told his team after his first run, “We rolled of the truck with a good piece this week. I think we have something to work with here. It feels really good.”

Ryan Blaney: Blaney is much better on the oval tracks than he is on the road courses. Blaney has made 5 starts on the road courses and his average starting position is 15.8 and his average finishing position is 18.6. Blaney finished 34th earlier this season at Sonoma. Blaney did not like his car. He said, “It is loose on the rights and tight on the left. I also have some wheel hop through the carousel.”  

Paul Menard: Menard is known as a good road course driver but he is actually much better at Sonoma than he is at Watkins Glen. Menard usually finishes between 18th and 22nd. The switch to the Wood Brothers Racing should help him a little this week. Menard was fighting a loose car. They spent most of the final practice working on qualifying trim.

Kyle Busch: Busch is on quite the roll this season and he had the best car at Watkins Glen last year. Busch won the pole and totally dominated Stage 1 before problems in the pits killed his day. Busch has finished 12 of his 13 starts at Watkins Glen in the top 10 (He blew an engine in the one he failed to finish in the top 10). Busch leads the series with 216 laps led at the Glen. Busch really liked his car. The No. 18 car was one of the few that got faster with each lap. Mike Bagley from MRN said, “Kyle Busch looks like he is on fire. He runs the esses way better than any other driver and his speed through the corners is unmatched.”

Erik Jones: Jones is a good sleeper pick this week. He finished 7th at Sonoma in June and he finished 10th at Watkins Glen last year. Joe Gibbs Racing is usually the best team at this track so Jones should have a good car. Jones will also have some extra seat time since he ran the K&N Series race at the track. Jones said he got a blister on his hand from shifting in the K&N Series race. The medical staff wrapped his hand so it should not be an issue. Jones really liked his car. The Toyotas all look like they have the field whipped this week. Jones was fastest in the morning practice.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been one of the best drivers in the last two races at Watkins Glen. He won the race in 2016 and finished 4th last year. Hamlin ran well at Sonoma this year too. He is one of the best road course drivers in the MENCS. Hamlin made a long run and his fastest lap was lap 6. That suggests his car is very good on the long runs. The team changed transmissions between the two practice sessions. They wanted to make sure it was good for the race.

Daniel Suarez: Watkins Glen ranked as the best track for Suarez in his rookie season. He qualified 5th, led 14 laps and finished 3rd. His average running position was 5.8 so he was up front for most of the race. He said this tracks reminds him of the tracks he raced in Mexico. Suarez told Dustin Long from NBC Sports that he spent a lot of time with Kyle Busch in the simulator this week. He said he learned a lot from Busch and he feels he is better prepared for the race at Watkins Glen this week than he was last year.

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has won the last two races on the road courses. In June he qualified 2nd, led 62 of 110 laps and won the race at Sonoma. Last year he qualified 3, led 24 laps and won the race at Sonoma. The No. 78 team needs a win to keep up with the No. 4 and No. 18 teams. Truex told Cole Pearn, “The stability is really good. It does exactly what we expected. Maybe a tick loose in the esses, but I think we know which direction we need to go.” Pearn responded, “Bring it in and we will try what we did last year.” (He won the race last year).

Ryan Newman: Newman has been a middle-of-the-pack driver this season and he has been a middle-of-the-pack driver on the road courses. Newman has a 17.2 average starting position and a 17.4 average finishing position in the last 6 road course races. Newman said the car had way too much rear brake. They made some changes and he said, “The car is just neutral. It is not great but not bad either.” Newman got into the wall in the morning practice. Newman told Kyle Ricky from MRN, “We are going to fix this car. This is the best we have been here in a long time.” Newman started out 9th in final practice so it looks like they fixed the car.

Austin Dillon: Dillon will get some extra seat time this week. He will be driving the No. 3 car in the Xfinity Series Race. Dillon has not been good on the road courses. His average starting position is 20.8 and his average finishing position is 24.8. Dillon was way too loose. He made a lot of short runs and most of his lap times were between 24th – 30th. He said he was losing a lot of time in the esses.

Ty Dillon: Dillon has competed in 3 MENCS races on the road courses. He finished 28th at Sonoma last year, 19th at Watkins Glen and 33rd at Sonoma this season. His average running position on the road courses is 28.4. The No. 13 car did not have a lot of speed. I did not get much information on their car but he never cracked the top 30 on the speed chart on his long runs.

Kasey Kahne: Kahne will only have fantasy value this week if he qualifies outside the top 25 and you are playing a game which awards place differential points. Kahne has an average starting position of 22.4 and an average finishing position of 20th in his last 4 road course races. Kahne told his team, “The front is good but the back is a little too free.” They brought the No. 95 car in for some adjustments. He went out for another run and said, “Much better.”

AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger will be making a rare appearance in the Xfinity Series race this week. He will be driving the No. 23 car GMS Racing (This is the same car Chase Elliott has been driving this season). The extra seat time should help him in the race Sunday. Watkins Glen is the best track for Allmendinger. He has one win (2014) and has finished 6 of his last 7 races at the Glen in the top 10. He did say in the media center Friday that his goal this week is a top 5 finish. When asked why it was not a win, he said, “We are just trying to be realistic.” Allmendinger told his team, “Through the bus stop, the transition is just too quick. But the platform, that’s as good as a platform as you can get right there. I just need more turn and overall grip.”

Chris Buescher: Buescher spent a lot of time with AJ Allmendinger in the simulator last year to learn how to navigate the road courses. He finished 19th at Sonoma last year, 11th at Watkins Glen and 12th at Sonoma this season since his time as a student of Allmendinger. Buescher looked decent in practice. The No. 37 team started the morning practice with the same setup as their teammate, AJ Allmendinger. The car was a little free in the esses and tight on the left turns. Buescher ran most of his laps near the 20th spot on the speed chart.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Bubba only has one start in the MENCS on the road courses and it was a train wreck. Wallace qualified 35th and finished 29th at Sonoma this season. He has competed in 2 Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen. He finished 29th and 16th. Bubba ran most of his laps outside the top 30. He said, “It is just hard for me to get the feel out here. I am really working on my braking points.” Bubba was completely lost at Sonoma and he does not look much better at Watkins Glen.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: This is not the best week to use Stenhouse. He has competed in 10 races on the road courses and his average starting position is 26.7 and his average finishing position is 26.3. Stenhouse actually looked pretty good in practice. He was 11th fastest in the morning practice and ran most of his laps in the top 15 in final practice. It will be interesting to see how he races in traffic.

Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is one of the best picks on paper this week. He finished 2nd in this race last year and he has a 6.2 average finishing position in his last 4 races at Watkins Glen. The problem is that he is not driving for Joe Gibbs Racing anymore. I did not get a lot of info on the No. 6 car. He was 27th in the morning practice and ran most of his laps outside the top 25 in final practice.

David Ragan: Ragan has not been very good on the road courses in his career. He has a 25.9 average starting position and a 28.3 average finishing position in his last 10 road course races. Ragan made some long runs and he said, “We are giving up a lot of time in the esses and turn 5. It is way too tight and has no throttle response.”

Michael McDowell: McDowell started his racing career in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series. The time on the road courses in that series has translated into success in the MENCS. McDowell finished 14th at Sonoma and 12th at Watkins Glen last year. McDowell made a few 2 lap runs and the team adjusted the car. The No. 34 team sent McDowell out for a long run and went to 8th-fastest on the board. McDowell should be the best cheap option in DFS this week.

Matt DiBenedetto: Dibendetto had his best road course race at Sonoma in June. He qualified 30th and finished 17th. I doubt that will happen again. Dibendetto has a 31.3 average starting position and a 26.9 average finishing position in his 7 road course races in the MENCs. Dibenedetto told his team, “Loose, loose, loose and loose some more. I really need it tightened up a lot.” They made some major changes to the car.

 

Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and AJ Allmendinger

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Daniel Saurez, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Michael McDowell and Chris Buescher

 

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